COUNTY LINES

L.A. Sheriff's Department uses sensor technology to locate source of gunfire

Computers, not guns. In 1997, three people per day were killed by gunfire in Los Angeles County. More than 50 percent of them were bystanders. The Sheriff's Department is trying to reclaim the streets from gang violence and drug-related crime'but not with guns.

In Willowbrook, a neighborhood near Los Angeles International Airport that is prone to gun violence, the county is testing the ShotSpotter gunshot alert system from Trilon Technology of Los Altos, Calif.

ShotSpotter is a network of acoustic sensors that pinpoint the source of gunfire to within 20 feet. It saves the sound on a PC as a .wav file within about seven seconds, and law enforcement personnel can replay it later, Deputy Bob Killeen said.

Erroneous echoes. 'Echoes can confuse you,' said Dave Krikac, vice president of Dialogic Communications Corp. of Franklin, Tenn., which is providing the notification system for the project. 'Did the shot come from next door or across the street? ShotSpotter pinpoints it to much greater accuracy.'

Officers chart the shots on a digital map made from orthophotos of the area.

'The map lets you see down to the rocks' on top of a store roof, Krikac said.

Created in a MapObjects interface from Environmental Systems Research Institute of Redlands, Calif., the map can be integrated with Visual Basic products.

Krikac and his team integrated the map with telephone data for the area. When gunfire has been confirmed, DCC's Communicator system dials every residential and business phone near the sound. A message says, 'There's been gunfire in your area' and offers several options: report further information, follow up with a police officer anonymously, or wait to speak to a dispatcher.

Communicator runs under Microsoft Windows NT. 'I don't think we use anything that you couldn't buy at CompUSA,' Krikac said.

Unhappy New Year. The county also has a problem with people shooting guns in the air to celebrate, Killeen said. ShotSpotter recorded more than 700 gunshots in the first half-hour of the new year.

'Believe it or not,' he said, 'some people think that if you fire a gun into the air, the bullet disintegrates.'

During a Fourth of July celebration last year, a child was killed by celebratory gunfire, Killeen said.

'Trudy Walsh

E-mail: twalsh@gcn.com

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