Pa. city to install LPRs, gunshot detection devices that record video evidence
The Flock Safety technology can differentiate a gunshot from a firework and turns on video surveillance automatically when a gunshot is detected
By Lindsay Weber
The Morning Call
ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Allentown is installing devices throughout Center City to detect gunshots, city officials said at news conference Tuesday.
The technology — which is not yet active but will begin use “shortly,” according to police Chief Charles Roca — can detect gunshots within a quarter square mile radius with around 90% accuracy.
“This is a technology that is for our neighborhoods,” Mayor Matt Tuerk said. “It will make our neighborhoods and our streets safer.”
The company behind the new devices is Flock Safety, which serves police departments, neighborhood associations and businesses. Roca declined to answer where exactly the gunshot detection devices, called Raven, would be installed in the city, but previously said they are within a one-mile radius in Center City.
Allentown also recently installed and activated around 67 license plate reader devices throughout the entire city, also from Flock Safety.
Raven devices are precise enough to detect the difference between a gunshot and a firework, Flock Safety spokesperson Holly Beilin said. The devices, upon detecting a gunshot, alert police and record and save a five-second audio clip for use as evidence. Flock Safety license plate reader cameras also automatically turn on when a gunshot is detected to capture visual evidence.
“In incidents of that nature, time is of the essence,” Roca said.
The new technology is paid for by two grants totaling $4.1 million from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, which is also paying for car and body cameras, police vehicle upgrades and other technical improvements.
The benefits of the new technology are numerous, city leaders said: The automatic gunshot detection will help officers respond more quickly to shootings, collect more thorough evidence to solve them and could free officers’ time to work on community engagement.
Allentown saw 16 homicides last year, the majority of which involved guns.
The city will also soon launch an online dashboard to track neighborhood level-crime statistics, which could help demonstrate the efficacy of this program, Tuerk said. But he warned that the gunshot detection technology would likely pick up gunshots that might have previously never been reported to police, so the number of shootings next year could be higher.
One prominent critic of Flock Safety is the American Civil Liberties Union, which criticized Flock’s license plate reading technology in a news release last year. The technology, ACLU officials said, presents the possibility of creating a “nationwide mass-surveillance system” by making collected data searchable to all Flock customers.
Beilin said Flock Safety has safeguards in place against surveillance — for example, data is only stored for 30 days, and police officers, when searching through Flock Safety’s database, must always log a reason for their search. A City Council could audit searches to ensure they are legitimate.
Flock Safety does not own the data its devices collect, and does not sell it to third parties, nor does Allentown.