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Penn. city leery of gunfire sensors

Lancaster officials favor cameras 

By Madelyn Pennino 
Intelligencer Journal 

LANCASTER, Penn. — More cities are using gunfire-detection systems to help catch people who illegally use firearms, but Lancaster city isn't interested in making the move - at least not anytime soon.

George Orrison, director of marketing/security technology for Planning Systems Inc., a company based in Reston, Va., that sells gunfire-detection systems, said the cost of the systems vary.

"The bottom line is that this is very much an applied science," Orrison said. "The cost is relegated by the terrain and layout of the city or municipality."

The cost of a system also depends on the number of sensors it contains. A 20-sensor system costs $90,000, and a 100-sensor system costs, $150,000, Orrison said.

Orrison said the company sells gunfire-detection systems under the brand name SECURES.

Such systems include acoustic sensors designed to detect, locate and report on hostile fire through detection of a blastwave from a bullet exiting a gun. The sound is transmitted to a Geographic Information Systems map within seconds.

Lancaster Mayor Rick Gray said Tuesday he believes gunfire sensors would be somewhat effective, but they are not the best weapon to combat crime in the city.

Gray said he'd rather see more cameras installed on city streets.

"When you consider the expense involved with gunfire-detection systems, cameras are the better option," Gray said. "We know where the crime is happening. Cameras ferret out wrongdoing."

Dale Witmer, executive director of the Lancaster Community Safety Coalition, agreed with Gray.

"We have found that cameras serve as a deterrent," Witmer said. "Our focus is to install cameras as a prevention tool."

Lancaster has 35 pan/tilt/zoom security cameras operating throughout the city. The cameras were installed beginning in 2004.

In the next three months, Witmer said, 23 more cameras will be installed.

Witmer said each camera costs about $4,000, but costs can run as high as $10,000, depending on how much fiberoptic cable is needed to operate it.

The security cameras were paid for using federal and state grants, plus donations from the Armstrong, Feree and two Steinman foundations as well as private contributions, Witmer said.

Harrisburg recently installed 60 gunfire-detection sensors in its downtown area, according to a report published July 3 in The Patriot-News.

The technology was purchased using a $40,000 grant from the state Commission on Crime & Delinquency and an $80,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice's Project Safe Neighborhoods, the Patriot reported.

NSI has installed gunfire-detection systems in seven other cities around the country, including East Orange, N.J., Chicago and Newport, R.I.

Although Witmer said there are no plans to bring gunfire sensors to Lancaster now, it's a possibility in the future.

"I'm not saying that we won't ever implement them," Witmer said. "It's just not high on our priority list now. But as technology is updated, it may become an option."

A more effective way to curb gun violence, Gray said, is to make penalties more severe.

Gray said he will ask City Council next month to redefine what it means to discharge a firearm and to increase the jail time for a conviction.

The current ordinance, which was established in 1999, calls for a $500 fine and 30 days in jail. The proposal seeks the same fine, with 60 more days in jail.

The proposal also would make each shot from a firearm a separate offense and require jail terms to be served consecutively.

Gray said he believes stronger consequences will make people think twice about using guns illegally.

"The penalty now isn't adequate. We need to stiffen it up just a bit."

If council votes to amend the ordinance, Gray said, residents will feel safer.

"When people think they hear gunshots, everybody starts dialing 911," Gray said. "It scares the heck out of people. This will make them feel more safe in their neighborhoods." 

Copyright 2007 Lancaster Newspapers, Inc.

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