YBOR CITY, Fla. — As darkness falls on the Fourth of July, Hillsborough County’s “Shot Spotter” system is listening.
Inside the Sheriff’s Office Communication Center, 911 dispatchers take emergency calls and on a special monitor get near-instantaneous alerts anytime a gun is fired.
“It will be really busy,” said Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Communications Manager Scott Ray. “We can probably be safe to say a couple hundred calls will come in that way.”
The network utilizes 80 sensors strategically placed across the county which can differentiate between fireworks, backfires and real guns. The technology enables the sheriff’s office to pinpoint the exact location of where a round is fired.
“It will actually zoom in and show us where the shots are coming from,” said Ray.
For most of the year, the system gives law enforcement a headstart on responding to violent crimes involving guns, but on two nights of the year in particular, Independence Day and New Year’s Eve, the system is put to the test as it also listens for celebratory gunfire.
“No good comes from firing a firearm outside," said Maj. David Fleet of the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. "Even if you think you’re not shooting at someone, that bullet can still come down and hurt someone. And we just can’t have that. It's too dangerous.”
By 9:30 Tuesday night, the Shot Spotter screen was already lit up with detected gunfire.
Many of the bullets will fall harmlessly to the ground, but in cases of property damage or people actually getting shot, Scott Ray says the system gives law enforcement a chance to make an arrest in crimes previously near impossible to solve.
“It gives us a place to start.”