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Crime down 20 percent as police begin testing ShotSpotter

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Shot Spotter

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By Tyler Stocks
The Daily Reflector

Monday, February 4, 2019

Greenville experienced a significant drop in overall crime from 2017 to 2018, with reported incidents falling more than 20 percent in most serious categories, according to statistics released by the Greenville Police Department.

The biggest drops came in the number of robberies and burglaries, according to a report provided Jan. 24 by the department to City Manager Ann Wall. Burglaries fell 35 percent from 724 to 478 and robberies fell 27 percent from 154 to 112 throughout the city.

Other categories that fell included aggravated assaults, which dropped 21 percent from 420 to 330 reported incidents, and larcenies, which declined 17 percent from 2,566 to 2,119 reported incidents.

The city saw small increases in the number homicides, which grew from four in 2017 to five in 2018, and the number of rapes increased from 22 to 26. The number of larcenies from automobiles increased 13 percent, from 104 to 118.

In all, the violent crimes — murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assaults — dropped from 599 to 473, or 21 percent, with a five-year average of 534 reported incidents.

Property crimes — burglary, larceny and auto larceny — decreased 20 percent from 3,394 to 2,715 reported incidents with a five-year average of 2,715.

Deputy Police Chief Ted Sauls said the figures show officers have been in the right place at the right time.

“For me, it says that the men and women of the department are focusing their efforts exactly where they need to be,” Sauls said on Friday. “We use a data-driven approach in terms of how we make our assignments, where we know the crimes are occurring.”

Sauls said one contributing factor is zone policing. 

“I would have to put a big piece of it on our zone policing and our zone commanders,” Sauls said. “They now have a sense of responsibility to the east, west and south zones. Their substation is in the zone. Those zone commanders are taking a top level of responsibility like the chief of police has always had to do. They’ve got ownership in their zones and they’re focusing their specific efforts.”

Another factor is the neighborhood policing concept whereby police officers are assigned to different neighborhoods and are thus able to gather intelligence and build relationships with citizens before a crime occurs, Sauls said.  

“They are focusing on things that really matter to me and you. No, we don’t want to go out and get robbed and hurt, but you know what else we don’t want ... I don’t want my Weedeater gone out of my front yard. I don’t want you riding up and down my street with a loud muffler ... I don’t wnat you speeding in my neighborhood if my kids are riding their bikes ... those are quality of life issues,” Sauls said

Violent crimes including homicides are still a concern, and Sauls said the department is working diligently to address those issues.    

“Yes we’re going after the violent crime, yes we’re going after the violent offenders, but we’re also not forgetting that speed enforcement is an issue over here, pedestrian crossings are an issue over here. It’s a hollistic approach.”

To help them tackle violent crimes such as shootings, the department is implementing technology known as ShotSpotter. 

ShotSpotter is a California-based company that uses an “acoustic gunshot surveillance system” to identify where gunshots have been fired. The company produces multiple versions of the system, which utilizes sensors, algorithms and artificial intelligence to detect, locate and alert police to gunfire. 

Greenville City Council unanimously approved a three-year, $615,000 contract with the company in October.

On Friday, the department along with representatives from the company will be conducting a live-fire gunshot test to test the sensor calibration, quality of detection and identify calibration that may be needed in sensors placed by the company.

During the testing, law enforcement will be onsite, a bullet trap will be used and no bullets will be fired into the air.  

Once approved for implementation, the technology will be deployed in a 3.6-square-mile area that includes East Carolina University’s main campus in the east to Moyewood in the west, Arlington Boulevard and Millbrook Street in the south and the Tar River on the north.

Greenville police received more than 3,200 shots-fired calls from 2012-17, Police Chief Mark Holtzman said. It averages to about 544 calls annually, but the number grew to 625 in 2017.

Sauls said Friday that he is optimistic about the new technology.  

“Hopefully we will see a decreased response time, we know exactly where to go, we have a better chance of getting our hands on the offender but we also have a better chance at recovering evidence of the crime that may be gone by time we get there.  And we have a better chance of reccovering weapons that are being used illegally,” Sauls said.  

To learn more about ShotSpotter visit www.shotspotter.com.

Contact Tyler Stocks at tstocks@reflector.com or 252-329-9566.  Follow him on Twitter @TylerstocksGDR.

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