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If you're shooting, Omaha is listening with ShotSpotter

If you're shooting, Omaha is listening with ShotSpotter

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With Independence Day approaching, Omaha police want to remind people that gunfire mixed in with fireworks celebrations is not OK.

Fireworks might make some Omaha neighborhoods sound like a war zone, but that doesn't mean gunshots will go unheard by police.

ShotSpotter, a system that uses a network of audio sensors to detect the exact location of a gunshot, can cut out background noise from fireworks based on acoustic signatures, said ShotSpotter spokeswoman Lydia Barrett.

The sound waves of gunshots and fireworks look different and are often automatically differentiated by the computer system. If for some reason the computer system can't tell the difference between gunshots and fireworks, a technician at ShotSpotter's California office can listen and look at the waveform, reporting the results to police, Barrett said.

ShotSpotter guarantees 80percent accuracy in picking out gunshots, but Barrett said the company's performance is “very much above that” mark.

The city has had sensors in place in high-crime Omaha neighborhoods since 2011. The system was paid for with a $900,000 U.S. Justice Department grant.

Celebratory gunfire is a problem because what goes up must come down. And when a gun is fired inside the city limits, there is a significant chance that it could hit somebody or something, said Officer Michael Pecha, an Omaha police spokesman. Anybody who fires a gun illegally will be arrested, he said.

Pecha said officers will also be watching for illegal activity, not simply relying on ShotSpotter.

“We take all illegal gun use seriously,” Pecha said. “And whether with the help of ShotSpotter, or by other means, (police) will arrest those who take part in celebratory gunfire.”

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