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Editorial: Suffolk's ShotSpotter might still hit the mark

Suffolk County Police Sgt. Peter Ervolina shows how

Suffolk County Police Sgt. Peter Ervolina shows how the ShotSpotter system registered two shots that were fired in a demonstration on Railroad Avenue in Huntington Station. (Dec. 22, 2011) Credit: James Carbone

Suffolk County's ShotSpotter doesn't appear to be spotting gunshots as effectively as county leaders and police officials had hoped when they touted the high-tech system. That's disappointing, but only 18 months into using ShotSpotter, it's also far too early to give up on this valuable way of pinpointing the sources and directions of gunfire.

According to the most recent report from Suffolk police, which covered eight months through March, about two-thirds of the 212 gunshots ShotSpotter picked up were unsubstantiated one way or the other. Another 30 percent were found to be false, possibly triggered by other sharp noises. In only 14 instances were gunshots confirmed.

The technology, which has cost the county about $800,000, was placed in North Amityville, Huntington Station, Wyandanch, Brentwood and North Bellport in 2011 to help police get information on shots fired in neighborhoods where gangs are active and residents have been afraid or unwilling to report gunfire. It's disappointing, but not unprecedented, that the system is not yet working as promised.

Nassau County police officials are very happy now with their system, first installed in Uniondale and Roosevelt in 2009. They say it has reduced gun violence and made it easier to investigate incidents in which shots are fired. But they also say it took some time to learn how to best use the system.

And there have been a few instances in which ShotSpotter has helped fight crime in Suffolk, albeit not as many as cops would like. Police officials say they will intensify oversight and issue monthly reports about the program in the hope of improving results. They should also seek help and advice from Nassau and other communities that have had success with the technology.

It's too early to pull the plug on ShotSpotter in Suffolk, as one legislator is trying to do, but it's high time to make it work better.