Suffolk Executive Steve Bellone picked the wrong time to propose elimination of the county’s ShotSpotter program, which operates in North Amityville, Wyandanch, Huntington Station, North Bellport and Brentwood.
Yes, in Brentwood, where Bellone and county police commissioner Timothy Sini spent Tuesday evening attempting to calm residents fears in the wake of allegedly gang-related killings of two high school girls last week.
“We need SpotShotter in our community more than ever,” Marcos Maldonado, 35, told Sini during Tuesday’s meeting. “Your officers need more tools, not less tools.”
Bellone, in submitting his proposed 2017 budget to lawmakers, has proposed eliminating ShotSpotters, which uses GPS and other technologies to “hear” and pinpoint for police locations of suspected gunplay.
He did not state a reason. And some officials, including Huntington Town Supervisor Frank Petrone, expressed surprise that they had not been consulted before Bellone eliminated funding for the program from his proposed 2017 budget.
Nassau was the first Long Island municipality to put ShotSpotter into place, in 2009, in Uniondale and Roosevelt. Long Beach started by using the system in the North Park neighborhood, but has expanded its coverage to the entire city.
The system also is in use in the Village of Hempstead, where officials were not immediately available for comment. But Mayor Wayne Hall, who is recovering from kidney transplant surgery, has called the technology invaluable. With a few taps on his office computer, he can see — and hear — what’s been picked up by the device. In one case he shared two years ago, the sound of a fatal volley of gunfire was chilling.
Suffolk County came comparatively late to the ShotSpotter game, but over time expanded the program to communities directly as a result of neighborhood pressure. At one point, residents of North Bellport — after a spate of gun-related violence — took it upon themselves to invite a ShotSpotter representative to the community, sitting with him in a local diner after then-County Executive Steve Levy voiced opposition to implementing the technology.
Later, officials in Huntington, along with Huntington Station residents, successfully pushed for the system too.
A 2013 report by Suffolk’s police department questioned the value of the program. According to the report, which covered an eight-month period, almost two-thirds of the 212 gunshots identified by the system were found to be unsubstantiated, while 30 percent were found to be false. Overall, less than 7 percent — or 14 instances — of gunfire were confirmed.
Does that mean the program’s not working? Or could it mean, as police and elected officials in Nassau County and Long Beach believe, that the technology is?
As of now, Nassau has the most sophisticated version of the system, which supplements captured audio with images. Since 2009, officials said, they’ve seen a 90 percent decrease in gun violence in Roosevelt and Hempstead.
“It is a tool that produces intelligence, and expedites response times,” said Thomas Krumpter, Nassau’s acting police commissioner. “If I wasn’t getting a return on that investment for that system I would find another way to use that money.”
In Long Beach, police Commissioner Michael Tangney took a volunteer grant writer up on an offer to help the city — resulting in a five-year grant to fund ShotSpotter. “It has done a great deal to increase safety in the neighborhoods,” he said.
But is there value for the program in Brentwood, where some residents complain that they’re living in the middle gang wars?
Tangney seemed to cover that one too.
ShotSpotter “has a tremendous deterrent effect, it keeps ner’ do wells from being involved in gunplay,” he said. “Bad guys know we have a quick response time and that makes [ShotSpotter] absolutely worth it to me.”