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Gunshot Detection Systems: Methods, Challenges, and Can they be Trusted?

Many communities which are experiencing increased gun violence are turning to acoustic gunshot detection systems (GSDS) with the hope that their deployment would provide increased 24/7 monitoring and the potential for more rapid response by law enforcement to the scene. In addition to real-time monitoring, data collected by gunshot detection systems have been used alongside witness testimonies in criminal prosecutions. Because of their potential benefit, it would be appropriate to ask– how effective are GSDS in both lab/controlled settings vs. deployed real-world city scenarios? How reliable are outputs produced by GSDS? What is system performance trade-off in gunshot detection vs. source localization of the gunshot? Should they be used only for early alerts or can they be relied upon in courtroom settings? What negative consequences are there for directing law enforcement to locations when a false positive event occurs? Are resources spent on GSDS operational costs well utilized or could these resources be better invested to improve community safety? This study does not attempt to address many of these questions including social or economic questions of GSDS, but provides a reflective survey of hardware and algorithmic operations of the technology to better understand its potential as well as limitations. Specifically, challenges are discussed regarding environmental and other mismatch conditions, as well as emphasis on validation procedures used and their expected reliability. Many concepts discussed in this paper are general and will be likely utilized in or have impact on any gunshot detection technology. For this study, we refer to the ShotSpotter system to provide specific examples of system infrastructure and validation procedures.

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