Champaign gunshot detection tech not meeting expectations

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The city council voted 6-3 on a resolution "Authorizing the Purchase and Installation of Automated License Plate Readers, Gunshot Detection, and Related Equipment from Flock Group, Inc.," in December 2021.

On February 13 this year, a one-year pilot program began in Champaign with Raven gunshot detection technology.

Records obtained in a Freedom of Information Act request provide insight into the efficacy of the technology, which officials say has subverted the city’s expectations. 

“To date, the system has not yet lived up to performance expectations, including misidentifying some sounds, such as fireworks or a vehicle backfire, as possible gunfire,” Champaign Deputy Chief Kevin Olmstead said, who oversees the gunshot detection pilot program. “However, the vendor continues to work diligently to analyze the system’s configuration in order to ensure that it reaches an appropriate level of accuracy in its alerts.”

Data obtained in a Freedom of Information Act request shows 64 total recorded incidents from April through mid-July. Only three of them were “founded” incidents, meaning that a Raven device successfully led officers to a site where evidence was found that gunshots had been fired.

The other 61 were “unfounded” incidents, which meant that either the Raven devices erroneously logged a gunshot when no evidence was found of a discharged weapon, which there were 54 cases, or the Raven devices failed to log a nearby gunshot where there was clear evidence, which there were 7 cases.

In one unfounded incident, 11 Raven devices logged a gunshot when there was no evidence found.

The data also recorded whether a citizen reported a gunshot to the police. There were 16 entries where a citizen reported gunshots. Only two of those incidents were founded while the other 14 were unfounded. In half of those unfounded entries, there was a Raven alert accompanying the citizen report.

A detailed walkthrough of the monitoring and alert process from the system can be found online on the city’s webpage. As the technology captures any possible gunshot-like audio, it is logged in a tracking document and dispatches police automatically.

Source: City of Champaign web page on gunshot detection.

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