A sonic silver bullet for fighting crime

Gunshot monitoring technology scores big with local police.

EMAIL  |   PRINT  |   SHARE  |   RSS
google my aol my msn my yahoo! netvibes
Paste this link into your favorite RSS desktop reader
See all CNNMoney.com RSS FEEDS (close)

Innovation Nation
Call it the Eureka Moment: The sudden, blinding flash of inspiration that leads to a new product or company. We asked four inventors to share the story of theirs.

(Fortune Small Business) -- Police surveillance cameras can make civil libertarians queasy. But what if cops could listen for dangerous crime instead of watching?

Enter ShotSpotter, a Mountain View, Calif., company that has installed microphones on telephone poles in 45 cities and counties across the U.S. with few complaints from local citizens.

ShotSpotter monitors only one thing: gunshots. Its microphones can detect a gunshot from a mile or more away. The system determines the exact location of each shot using triangulation and wirelessly transmits a recording of the sound to police dispatchers. Today ShotSpotter monitors about 125 square miles with 900,000 inhabitants and charges $25,000 per square mile of coverage. The company is expanding, with 50 employees and counting.

The system was installed in San Francisco late last year as part of a crime-fighting initiative. Since the beginning of the year, the city's homicide rate has dropped 50%.

According to the San Francisco Police Department, the microphones have already had a deterrent effect. "There's an understanding within the criminal element of the technology, and I think that's causing incidents to decrease," says Lt. Mikail Ali, who oversees monitoring of the two-square-mile area covered.

CEO James Beldock, 34, who took over the company from scientist founder Robert Showen in 2004, was struggling with anemic growth until he acquired a small wireless company in 2005. That let ShotSpotter lose the cumbersome telephone wiring required by earlier versions of the technology.

ShotSpotter's clients include the U.S. Army, which has been testing the system in Iraq. As a result, the Commerce Department classified the microphones as military munitions, which meant that they couldn't be exported. But Beldock fought back, spending roughly $500,000 on lawyers and consultants. "Night-vision goggles went through the same thing 15 years ago," he shrugs.

It paid off: ShotSpotter won the right to pitch its product to police chiefs around the world. Its first target: Brazil, another country with a history of major gun violence.  To top of page

To write a note to the editor about this article, click here.

QMy dream is to launch my own business someday. Now that it's time to choose a major, I'm debating if I should major in entrepreneurial studies or major in engineering to acquire a set of skills first. Is majoring in entrepreneurship a good choice? More
Get Answer
- Spate, Orange, Calif.
10 of the most luxurious airline amenity kits When it comes to in-flight pampering, the amenity kits offered by these 10 airlines are the ultimate in luxury More
7 startups that want to improve your mental health From a text therapy platform to apps that push you reminders to breathe, these self-care startups offer help on a daily basis or in times of need. More
5 radical technologies that will change how you get to work From Uber's flying cars to the Hyperloop, these are some of the neatest transportation concepts in the works today. More
Worry about the hackers you don't know 
Crime syndicates and government organizations pose a much greater cyber threat than renegade hacker groups like Anonymous. Play
GE CEO: Bringing jobs back to the U.S. 
Jeff Immelt says the U.S. is a cost competitive market for advanced manufacturing and that GE is bringing jobs back from Mexico. Play
Hamster wheel and wedgie-powered transit 
Red Bull Creation challenges hackers and engineers to invent new modes of transportation. Play

Most stock quote data provided by BATS. Market indices are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer. Morningstar: © 2018 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Factset: FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2018. All rights reserved. Chicago Mercantile Association: Certain market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. Dow Jones: The Dow Jones branded indices are proprietary to and are calculated, distributed and marketed by DJI Opco, a subsidiary of S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC and have been licensed for use to S&P Opco, LLC and CNN. Standard & Poor's and S&P are registered trademarks of Standard & Poor's Financial Services LLC and Dow Jones is a registered trademark of Dow Jones Trademark Holdings LLC. All content of the Dow Jones branded indices © S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC 2018 and/or its affiliates.