By Sebastien Malo
NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York City police are employing a high-tech system to pinpoint gunfire amid an uptick in shootings in the nation's largest city, officials said on Monday.
With the installation of the tracking system, ShotSpotter, New York continues its foray into technology-assisted policing, which recently equipped New York Police Department officers with body cameras, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner William Bratton told a news conference.
ShotSpotter consists of acoustic sensors, which are mounted on rooftops, telephone polls and other locations. Audio from at least three sensors that detect gunfire - a process called triangulation - is sent to the company's California lab, which analyzes the information to confirm it's a gunshot, pinpoints its location, and then alerts police in New York.
"This new gunshot deterrent system is going to do a whole lot of good in terms of going after the bad guys," said de Blasio. "This technology will help us stay even safer."
New York is among a growing number of cities that have adopted the system, including Washington, Oakland, Detroit and Rio de Janeiro.
At a cost of $1.5 million so far, a web of 300 sensors have been added to New York high-crime areas spanning 15 square miles in the boroughs of the Bronx and Brooklyn.
Questions have been raised about the system's efficiency. In a 2013 assessment in Suffolk County, New York, the police department found that less than 7 percent of alerts over a 32-week period surveyed were confirmed as gunshots.
Critics say those kinds of false positives could remain a hurdle in making the technology useful to policing.
"Like burglar alarms, we all get used to alarms and don't always respond," said professor Dennis Kenney of John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
But Bratton pointed to the high percentage of people who fail to call 911 after hearing a gunshot, estimating that figure to be in excess of 75 percent in cities where ShotSpotter has already been implemented. Experts say they fail to act either out of confusion about the sound heard or fear of retaliation.
Since the system went live in the Bronx early on Monday, at least one unreported instance of three gunshots has been recorded.
Already this year, New York has seen 184 shooting victims citywide as of March 8, an increase of nearly 22 percent compared to the same period last year, NYPD data show.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Eric Walsh)