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'It is helping us in addressing our crime needs': Louisville police set to expand gunfire technology

LMPD first rolled ShotSpotter out in 2017. Most of the gunfire reports officers respond to are only called in by the devices.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Every year in Louisville, thousands of gunshots or suspected gunshots are only called into Louisville Police (LMPD) by the department’s ShotSpotter technology. Even when no one is hurt, those shots have a ripple effect.

This year, LMPD has funding to expand the program, calling it successful so far.

LMPD launched the technology in 2017 to recognize suspected gunfire and dispatch officers. Until this year, it's only been used in about six square miles of the city in the First, Second, Fourth and Sixth divisions.

Also limited until this year – LMPD’s ability to levy charges, unless someone is hurt or directly endangered.  

According to data WHAS11 obtained from LMPD, in the first six months of 2020, ShotSpotter devices detected gunshots more than 2600 times. 

RELATED: Metro Police search for suspect connected to homicide near downtown Louisville

In the same time period in 2020, they registered shots more than 3800 times.

Based on the data, some of the incidents are classified as multiple gunshots in close time and location proximity.

According to LMPD, in the first four months of 2022, there were more than 1,370 ShotSpotter calls with an average time to officer notification of 41 seconds.

LMPD Major Emily McKinley said about 83% of calls aren't linked to other calls to 911.

“People assume someone else will call in or they may be afraid they don't want to be tied to the crime,” McKinley noted.

In 2022, LMPD plans to use funds to expand ShotSpotter six more square miles, in areas identified by the company as prime locations.

“These are active gunfire rounds being dispatched to officers immediately within seconds of them happening and allowing officers to have that immediate response,” McKinley said.

But there is a catch. Unless there is a victim, it's hard to charge an alleged shooter with wanton endangerment or any other crime.

“We’d be more interested in making an arrest on a wanton endangerment or possession of a stolen firearm,” McKinley said. “We would need to have the person on scene with a weapon and be able to connect them to that crime to charge them with the ordinance, so it is a heavy lift there."

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Until recently, firing a gun recklessly in Louisville wasn't illegal, though Councilman Pat Mulvihill (D10) said the city did have a gun-firing ordinance prior to merger.

"We have very few options given the state edict,” he said.

Kentucky state law under KRS 65.870 restricts a city's ability to regulate guns, but Mulvihill said in 2021 Metro Council came up with an ordinance to fit the bill.

Passed in early 2022, it makes shooting within 300 feet of a road or potentially occupied building a misdemeanor.

"Hopefully this will be an education tool. Hopefully, this ordinance won't be utilized, and folks won't be cited or arrested,” Mulvihill said.

For some families, the new possible charges, which Mulvihill said are the strictest the Metro can dole out, aren’t enough.

"The Fourth of July, what used to be a joyous day with fireworks and sparklers, she didn't want to participate because of the reminder of the pow pow pow,” Krista Gwynn said of her daughter.

In Gwynn’s home, just the sound of gunfire is triggering.

In 2019, they lost their son, Christian, to gun violence. Then, last year, their daughter Victoria was wounded in another shooting that killed another teenager.

"Think about the folks that may have been impacted a day ago, a month ago,” Victoria's father, Navada Gwynn, said.

The family is encouraged by the city's new steps but would rather see stricter penalties for repeated offenses.

"My daughter will forever be scarred. But I feel like that's something Louisville is listening to,” Krista Gwynn said.

RELATED: LMPD investigates after shots fired at Metro government building in Limerick neighborhood

In the month since the gunfire ordinance passed, the city reports there have been no citations for it.

"Keep adding more repercussions, and maybe Frankfort needs to step in,” Krista Gwynn said.

As for ShotSpotter, already in 2022, the devices’ calls have lead police to at least 19 victims and 13 guns recovered.

“It is helping us in addressing our crime needs,” McKinley said.

McKinley said she is optimistic the expansion of the technology, alongside the ordinance, will help crackdown on reckless gunfire, investigate crimes and remove illegal guns from the street.

“We’ve become more aware of the massive amount of gunfire that is out there that we were never called on,” she said. “ShotSpotter alone is one thing but putting all the tools together and using them as one big piece does help provide more effectiveness.”

People who violate the city’s ordinance could face a $500 fine or up to a year in jail. McKinley told WHAS11 they’ll cite people with the ordinance only if higher offenses such as wanton endangerment don’t apply.

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