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Six years of shootings: Where and when gunfire happens in Minneapolis

One evening in early summer 2014, a group of young men approached a 17-year-old near the corner of Queen and 30th avenues north in Minneapolis, looking to buy some marijuana. They agreed on a small amount — a mere $15 worth — but the slightly older group of teens didn't want to pay. 

“This is mine,” said one of them, 19-year-old Michael Lashone Ferguson, after taking the bag, according to court records. 

The exchange turned into a fistfight, and then escalated into something worse. Ferguson produced a Smith & Wesson handgun and began to open fire, missing his target but spraying nearby houses with bullets.

Before anyone called 911, a series of nearby microphones picked up the frequency of the shots and triangulated the location of the incident. The audio traveled 2,000 miles to Newark, California, where a sound engineer analyzed the feed and confirmed it was gunfire, and then sent a report to 911 operators back in Minneapolis so the department could dispatch officers to the scene. The whole exchange usually takes less than a minute. Later that evening, with the help of witnesses, Minneapolis police took Ferguson and two of his accomplices into custody. They found the bag of weed and the handgun nearby and Ferguson was convicted of first-degree aiding and abetting aggravated robbery. 

The technology that assisted in the timely arrest is called ShotSpotter. In 2007, then-Third Precinct Minneapolis Police Commander Scott Gerlicher helped bring this little-known crime-fighting technology to his South Side district. The next year, Minneapolis installed more microphones on the North Side, another area of the city also troubled by frequent gun violence.

Nine years later, ShotSpotter monitors 90 U.S. cities, as well as some locations internationally — it recently helped bust rhinoceros poachers in South Africa — and Minneapolis law enforcement counts it as a vital tool in helping catch shooters.

“[ShotSpotter] allows us a much more rapid response,” says Gerlicher, now commander of the police department’s Strategic Information and Crime Analysis Division. “Cops are able to get there much more quickly, and thus the chances of making an apprehension or finding victims are much greater than by traditional means.”

But ShotSpotter also serves another, perhaps equally important function: It provides a macro look at how and where shootings occur in the city — particularly those incidents that don’t lead to arrests, which account for the vast majority of shots fired across the city.

“We know gun violence better than anyone in the world,” says ShotSpotter CEO Ralph Clark.

MinnPost analyzed five years of ShotSpotter data, beginning in January 2009. In that time, the system has dispatched officers to more than 5,000 shooting incidents in Minneapolis.

The data don't provide a perfect picture of shootings. For one thing, ShotSpotter can only provide data for the areas where its microphones are installed. Although the city has added more mics since first installing ShotSpotter in '07, they are still only used in high-shooting areas in North and South Side neighborhoods. It also doesn't pick up shots fired inside a home or building, and there’s still the occasional false positive.

But Clark says the company guarantees to detect at least 80 percent of shots fired in these areas, and usually hits closer to 90-95 percent — far more accurate than relying only on 911 callers.

“Although it’s not perfect, it’s very, very, very good,” he says.

With those caveats in mind, here’s what six years — from 2009 through 2015 — of ShotSpotter data tell us:

1. The number of gunshots fired in the city each year has been trending down

First, some good news: the number of shots fired appears to be dropping. As illustrated in the chart below, ShotSpotter detected 1,169 shots in 2009. In 2014, there were 697. Police note that ShotSpotter technology has gotten better over this time period, meaning there haven't been as many false-positives, which could contribute somewhat to the decline.

Shooting incidents detected per year

2. Shootings are largely concentrated in just a few neighborhoods

Neighborhoods in north Minneapolis see the most shooting incidents. Out of 5,029 shootings detected by ShotSpotter, about 64 percent took place in Camden or Near North. Jordan — a Near North community bound by Lowry Avenue to the north, Emerson Avenue to the east and West Broadway to the south and west — saw the highest concentration of ShotSpotter activations, with 1,378 in the six-year period, or about 27 percent of all shooting incidents. The Hawthorne community, also part of Near North, came in second with 773 incidents. The Central community saw the most shootings in South, with 461 incidents, followed by Midtown Phillips (266), Ventura Village (236) and East Phillips (234).

Use the heat map below to explore shooting incident concentrations in different areas of the city, or type an address into the search bar to zoom to a specific area.

Shooting incidents detected in Minneapolis, 2014
Red areas on the map indicate a higher concentration of detected shootings; blue areas a lower concentration. Data on gunshots is only available for areas covered by the ShotSpotter sensor network. Shot locations were provided to MinnPost as street addresses; consequently, locations are inexact.
Top neighborhoods with detected shooting incidents
Here are the neighborhoods that rate highest for frequency of shootings. Remember: Data on gunshots is only available for areas covered by the ShotSpotter sensor network.
Neighborhood200920102011201220132014
Jordan325206230159191267
Hawthorne11214119310595127
Central1479474584345
Willard - Hay705250403568
Folwell495859492941
Midtown Phillips765645363815
Ventura Village785146262015
East Phillips464838344622
McKinley443534342619
Near - North162426171139

These trends have been pretty stable over the last six years, too. While specific areas of concentrated gunshots vary from year to year, the Jordan and Hawthorne neighborhoods consistently see the most gunfire.

Minneapolis shooting incident concentration, by year
Areas in dark red represent higher concentrations of shooting incidents. Note: the concentration of shootings varies from year to year so concentrations of the same color do not represent the same raw number of shots across years.
shots heatmap 2009 shots heatmap 2010 shots heatmap 2011 shots heatmap 2012 shots heatmap 2013 shots heatmap 2014

3. Most shootings occur after dark

If the next six years look like the last, the safest time to walk around in Minneapolis is around 9 on a February morning.

Shooting incidents: time of day
Combined shooting incident totals for each day, 2009–2014.

Unsurprisingly, most shots occur at night, ramping up around 5 p.m. The highest frequency occurred between 9 p.m. and 2 a.m; in the six-year period MinnPost studied, 2,890 incidents took place during these nighttime hours, or about 57 percent of shots fired. That still leaves a significant number of shootings for the daytime, however. ShotSpotter recorded more than 600 incidents between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. over these years.

Shootings also pick up during the warmer months. About 60 percent of shooting incidents took place between May and October. The highest-frequency months were June and July, which collectively saw 1,316 — or about 26 percent — of total shootings recorded by ShotSpotter. January and February, usually the coldest months of the year, had the least amount of incidents, with 307 and 253 shootings, respectively.

Total shooting incidents by month
Combined shooting incident totals for each month, 2009–2014.

4. It’s extremely rare for shootings to result in immediate arrests

Tracking shootings doesn’t always mean officers get to the scene in time to make an arrest. Out of the 5,029 dispatches to ShotSpotter activations, a mere 51 resulted in bookings in the six-year period, according to the data. Most commonly, the officers arrive to an empty street corner or address. About 575 cases were canceled or deemed unfounded or false, meaning there likely was no shooting. Here's the breakdown of dispatch outcomes:

ShotSpotter call dispositions
Combined ShotSpotter call dispositions from 2009–2014.

The low booking count doesn’t necessarily mean ShotSpotter didn’t eventually lead to an arrest. Gerlicher says investigators frequently follow up on ShotSpotter incidents and use the information to track down suspects in days or weeks after the shooting. In other cases, investigators use ShotSpotter to prove or disprove details of an incident, such as how many shooters were involved.

Also not measured in these statistics is how effectively the technology acts as a deterrent to would-be shooters. Police purposely don't disclose the exact locations of the microphones to make criminals think twice about firing a gun, says Gerlicher.

“If you’re a criminal out there and you go to fire a gunshot outside in the city of Minneapolis, we want you to believe ... Shotspotter will be listening,” he says.

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Comments (22)

Ok, I will try again.

Ok, I will try again. Shouldn't the police take this information and more heavily patrol these "high shots fired" areas, stop suspicious folks and clean up the community. Any possibility of the police doing that without protests by certain groups. I hope that is not too controversial to get moderated out.

What do suspicious folks look like?

What do suspicious folks look like? Skin color? hair style? walks with a limp? out after dark? Driving around? I sure hope I don't look suspicious. The darn constitution gets in the way of your suggestion I think as inconvenient as that is.

The Constitution Evolves

Not too many years ago it was considered unconstitutional to seize assets of those who conducted illegal activities. Well that changed when lawmakers felt the necessity to change it.

The constitution doesn't allow picking up suspicious people.

It is the politician you have to work on not the police. The police follow the law they don't make the law. Good luck in this stupid time in politics getting any changes.

When?

When was it "considered unconstitutional to seize assets of those who conducted illegal activities?" The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of asset forfeiture as early as 1827 (the first time the Court considered the issue). See, The Palmyra, 25 U.S. (12 Wheat.) 1.

That's what CODEFOR does,

That's what CODEFOR does, cops on dots.

What makes you think

What makes you think that police enforcement/patrols aren't already concentrated on these areas? I'm fairly certain it is.

For example, these areas are hooked up to the ShotSpotter system, while other areas are not, so we know at minimum the police are listening more closely here.

If the police were patrolling

If the police were patrolling these areas more closely you would have a reduction in illegal activities, especially in these small concentrated areas, including shots fired in public issues. It has been proven over and over again aggressive police presence equals less crime. Problem is this tactic is considered profiling instead of good police work, in our PC culture, that is not ok. I am sure they are patrolling these areas more, but not enough to stop the indiscriminate shooting of guns in public by gang bangers. It is not law abiding folks (the majority) target practicing in their back yard who are doing the shooting, it is a very small percentage of young people in street gangs. Amazingly, in our PC world saying this simple fact get's blowback or in this case moderated by Minnpost. How can you fix a problem if you can't even identify the root cause of the problem.

"PC Culture"

I read "PC" in this context as "Per the Constitution."

Root cause of Problem?

How about we are dealing with the aftermath of: an ignorant destructive poor community targeted drug war for starters, how about racism, sexism, lack of education, lack of opportunity, transient population, slum-lording, social dysfunction, intentional or non intentional marginalization, family break down, intentional or non intentional concentration of poverty, culture diversification, a city hall stuck in serving multiple masters, as well as a idealistic bleeding heart DFL more interested in activity than out put, and insuring certain political insiders feed at the trough, vs insuring real change. The clear point is, we as a society put folks into certain areas by financial capability, and when an effort is made to address that root problem, "concentration of poverty" they are accused of "social engineering". Don't look to the police or any government enterprise to help solve the problem when folks vote to not allow them to solve the problem. We see that week after week out here in these discussions. "Too much big government" "Too much personal life intrusions" "Too much redistribution of wealth" . You can't fix a multi-generational, multi facet problem, with a single more cops police state solution. We have had a front line view of the situation for > 30 years. These aren't dots on the map, they are places we drive past every day or do our shopping, where we work and live.

Gunfire in Minneapolis

Shouldn't the map give some indication of the range of the technology since large areas of the city are not included in the area served?

Self Fulfilling Prophecy

The location of the reported shootings are highest in the locations where the microphones are located, which were placed where police expect the most shootings.

I think we could assume that there are some parts of the city where shootings are very rare but I agree the map should show where the system could be expected to detect gunfire to know if the map is showing real hot spots, or just acknowledging the system does it's job.

The article underplays this major gap in the data.

Missing Data

Is the entire city covered by Shotspotter or just certain neighborhoods? If not, presenting the data on a map of the entire city is sort of disingenuous as the data only reflects a smaller area.

From the article . . . .

From the article:

"The data don't provide a perfect picture of shootings. For one thing, ShotSpotter can only provide data for the areas where its microphones are installed. Although the city has added more mics since first installing ShotSpotter in '07, they are still only used in high-shooting areas in North and South Side neighborhoods. It also doesn't pick up shots fired inside a home or building, and there’s still the occasional false positive."

Bias

Maybe the police are just picking on these neighborhoods because of some racial bias... :-) Maybe we should start installing Shot Spotter mics in the burbs also... :-)

Or maybe more arrests are made in those communities because more crime occurs in the those neighborhoods?

Outstanding article

I like this article so much that I printed it to share with others who live in my building (I hope Minnpost is ok with this use.)
In the past, I've used my own intuition to determine when and where it was safe to venture. I was right about the time; 9am, but wrong about the area; the bike routes on Emerson and Fremont between Broadway and Lowry. Fortunately, I've never been shot at, but I have been chased; one time my attacker had a taser!
I appreciate the effort the authors put into writing this article and summarizing the data with clear and concise charts. The active map is great too!

No real change

The sounds of shots are too familiar in Jordan. I witnessed two occupants of a rental come down the alley and fire three shots into an abandoned couch. When officers arrived some while later my veracity was questioned. This is what happens when one neighborhood gets an inordinate percentage of section 8 housing, when city ordinances are lazily enforced, and when we tolerate behaviors that do nothing but foster continued deterioration of property and social congress. Police are, like teachers, overburdened by the social dysfunction. Pols seem primarily self serving. Looking at the shot spotter map, I think we can easily see who needs to assume some of the burden brought by the disinvested population.

Section 8 housing does NOT = More Crime

I'm sick of the relentless demonizing of poor people!!!! For those who equate Seciton 8 low-income housing with crime: HAVE YOU NOTICED THE PRICE OF A ONE-BEDROOM APT. THESE DAYS? Average $800 to $1,000 a month. HAVE YOU NOTICED WHAT WAGES ARE? MINIMUM-WAGE IS ABOUT $8. If you are an elder or a disabled person living on fixed income, you have LESS THAN $10,000 A YEAR. Do the math: one's ENTIRE disability check would go to pay for rent. The MAJORITY of poor people are NOT criminals!!! We jsut are NOT paid a lving wage or we're living on fixed income. And BTW: we are too often ALSO victimzed by crimnals---but, since we're poor, too, the police don't necessarily give a damn. A Minneapolis officer told me after I reported being assaulted and mugged, "Well, what do you expect? Look where you live." (Which was the West Bank at the time).

Bad data representation

This map does a great job of showing where the ShotSpotters are installed, but it does a great disservice in trying to represent the data on where gunshots occurred.

ShotSpotters are installed only in the Central and North neighborhoods, not the rest of the city. By including the rest of the city on the map, it insinuates there are no gunshots there. This would be more useful if it clearly outlined where shotspotter data was not available, or if it was more of neighborhood-focused look at the hot spots for gun violence.

If you look at these maps: http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/police/statistics/crime-statistics_codef... from the city, you can see that gunshots do happen in other parts of the city, they're just not captured by an automated computer.

Anyboidy else see a HUGE problem here?

"Ferguson was convicted of first-degree aiding and abetting aggravated robbery." Never even mind the question of where the charge for an obviously attempted murder went? Oh, and the drug charge, too ....? WHY did this young hoodlum NOT get convicted of the probably half dozen or so gun control laws he obviously broke.??? In typical judicial fashion, existing firearms laws are either not charged or plea-bargained away. Even MANDATORY sentences are often ignored by our courts. And yet, with this habitually lackadaisical enforcement .... lackadaisical over decades .... mush-headed politicians steadily call for more and more gun laws .... to then become unenforced. Insanity, much? We have ShotSpotter ... big deal, ... if it doesn't result in charges and convictions for gun law violations!

BLM Victims

I assume the ShotSpotter should have indicated shots fired outside the Mpls 4th precinct when the four or five Black Lives Matter protesters were shot by the White supremists? If so, why did protesters have to bang on the precinct doors to alert the police that an incident had occurred?

This article represents some

This article represents some of the worst "data-based" journalism I've read! Incomplete and misleading data, the effect of which is exaggerated to make a point that simply doesn't hold because of the weakness of, the holes in, the data presented.

Boys: No matter your caveat about gunshot spotters not being everywhere in Minneapolis, you simply cannot make generalizations about Minneapolis when the whole city isn't covered by those mics.

You should have waited--if you wanted to make a Minneapolis generalization--until the data had caught up to your a priori conclusions.