MACON, Ga. — It's been five months since Macon-Bibb launched its gunshot detection system, ShotSpotter, on February 24.
The company placed acoustic sensors at spots around the county to pinpoint gunfire and alert the sheriff's office.
Last fall, county commissioners unanimously agreed to spend nearly $2-million of American Rescue Plan money on the system. The reason for buying the system was to get deputies to shooting scenes faster and fast-track investigation.
So far, county leaders claim it's helping to reduce gun violence.
But is ShotSpotter actually working? Is it helping deputies to respond faster or investigators to make arrests? Those are the questions we worked to answer in our investigation.
The Bibb County Sheriff's Office told us in mid-June, they've responded to nearly 3,000 ShotSpotter alerts for shots fired since it launched in late February.
Sgt. Santel Smith is in charge of the new gunshot detection system for the sheriff's office.
He says ShotSpotter covers seven square miles of high crime areas out of Bibb County's 255 square miles. It adds up to about 3 percent of the whole county.
How does ShotSpotter work?
“This is what our deputies have inside their patrol cars, on their cell phones,” Smith said.
He walked 13WMAZ through how the technology works and the tools deputies can use daily.
ShotSpotter sensors are placed on rooftops and utility poles around the county, he says. When a shot is fired, the acoustic sensors pick it up and then timestamps it. Using the sensors, ShotSpotter “triangulates” it mathematically to determine where each gunshot was fired.
Then, the system alerts 911 dispatch in less than a minute.
Smith says the ShotSpotter system sends them a summary of where the shots were fired, how many shots went off, and how many possible shooters there are. The system can also determine how fast and what direction the shooter is moving.
ShotSpotter used in Ibex Street Homicide Response, Investigation
Sgt. Smith says the system lets them tap into crime as it happens in real time. Like in May, he says it helped deputies respond faster when someone shot and killed Ormondo Cortez Clark on Ibex Street.
The first deputy arrived six minutes after the shot was fired.
“We received the ShotSpotter alerts before we received the very first phone call that someone had been shot,” Smith said. “With ShotSpotter incident review, they were able to tell you there were multiple shooters involved as well as individuals moving in the direction of travel.”
During that same shooting in May, Eddie McIntyre says someone shot at him as he drove home.
“I just ducked. I thought I had been hit. It was so close. That glass flew all over me,” McIntyre said.
One bullet hit the passenger seat right next to him.
“The bullet went through right here. See that hole?” McIntyre said, showing 13WMAZ’s Ashlyn Webb the damage to his car. “It knocked this window out, that one, too.”
Smith says in cases like the Ibex Street shooting, ShotSpotter gives them spot on, precise locations, so investigators know where to look for evidence and where not to contaminate a potential crime scene.
But so far in this case, investigators still have not made any arrests. They don't know who killed Ormondo Cortez Clark or who shot at McIntyre's car.
Despite that, McIntyre says ShotSpotter is working in the neighborhood he's called home for the past 27 years. He says he's hearing fewer shots now.
“People are starting to realize that with shots fired, someone is gonna get caught,” McIntyre said.
But Kendrick Anderson says he sees the opposite.
“To me, I think it's just a waste of money, because, like I said, the shots go off, cops don't even come, and when they do come, it's 15 or 20 minutes later,” Anderson said.
Does ShotSpotter actually work? A weekend in Macon-Bibb County
But to get a look how it's working so far, 13WMAZ requested all records from the Bibb County Sheriff's Office on ShotSpotter calls in one weekend from Friday, June 3 to Tuesday, June 7.
In that time, the county responded to 66 ShotSpotter alerts involving a total of 286 shots fired. That's about one alert every two hours.
In a few cases, deputies collected shell casings and sent them to their crime lab, but in more, deputies wrote, they found nothing -- no shell casings, no shooter. In several of the ShotSpotter records, there's no record of a deputy following up at all, so are deputies responding to each ShotSpotter alert?
“We responded to every incident that comes into the 911 center. Our staffing is adequate to handle whatever we have to come into,” Smith said.
“Is it ever overwhelming for patrol deputies?” 13WMAZ’s Ashlyn Webb asked Smith.
“Believe it or not, ShotSpotter only makes up 4 percent of all calls that we respond to. We actually responded to more residential alarms than we do ShotSpotter alerts,” Smith said.
In the reports 13WMAZ received, response to ShotSpotter alerts ranged from a few minutes to more than an hour.
Although Macon is on track to break its yearly homicide record again, Mayor Lester Miller says ShotSpotter is already reducing gun violence. He gave the Pleasant Hill neighborhood as an example.
“We have seen some areas in Macon already that the number of shots fired has decreased as much as 25 to 30 percent,” Miller said.
Mayor Miller said in an interview with 13WMAZ in July 2021 that ShotSpotter could cut down on gunfire by 30-40% and increase the number of cases solved, based on what he has seen in other cities.
None of the records we received from Bibb County Sheriff’s Office mentioned arrests.
We asked the Bibb County Sheriff's Office if ShotSpotter has led to any arrests. They say it’s led to at least six arrests out of the nearly 3,000 calls they’ve responded to.
Mayor Miller also told us he believes ShotSpotter saved at least three lives this year but could not give us any specifics because he says the cases are still under investigation.
The mayor says he's considering the county put more funds into ShotSpotter so the system can cover more areas. He would not say when he would officially propose that to commissioners.