Calling again for a crime prevention tool

ShotSpotter is revamped and relaunched


Suffolk County district attorney Ray Tierney wants ShotSpotter back.

He’s calling for its installation in nine communities where gun violence is up: North Amityville, Huntington Station, Wyandanch, Brentwood, Central Islip, North Bellport, Mastic/ Shirley and Coram.

“We looked at the statistics for the last four years on gun violence in Suffolk County where a gun was held or fired,” he said in a phone interview. “We saw the crimes involving that statistic rise 50 percent. It occurred in 22 square miles of land within eight separate communities; the total for Suffolk County is 2,373 square miles. So, in less than 1 percent of the county, you have 50 percent of gun violence. It’s incredibly centralized and we need to do everything to address it. And this violence includes drive-by shootings.”

It was relaunched in Huntington Station early July.

The Long Island Advance, whose readership area encompasses North Bellport and Mastic/Shirley, contacted Tierney, community leaders, legislators, Suffolk County executive Steve Bellone and police commissioner Rodney Harrison about ShotSpotter.

Former legislator Kate Browning, whose 3rd District coverage area included the three LIA coverage communities and who advocated for ShotSpotter back in 2010 after Alvin Brothers and Adam Willet were shot, said residents are still in touch. (Legis. Browning (WF-Shirley) was term limited in 2017 after 12 years, then ran against James Mazzarella last November as a Democrat.)

“Since I’ve been out of office, I know a few cases of people shot in Mastic Beach in their homes, and we’re hearing about gun incidents in Mastic,” she said. “I still talk to people in Mastic, Mastic Beach and Shirley, and people are concerned. It makes sense to have ShotSpotter, not just for the community but to also protect law enforcement. The technology has improved. And now they can include cameras in addition to the sound detection, which pinpoints gun fire. The camera can snap a photo of the person or vehicle.”

Legis. James Mazzarella (R-Moriches), who now heads up Browning’s district, commented on the resolution passed earlier this year, asking the police commissioner’s office to conduct an analysis on gun crime.

“Everyone knows technology moves forward in months or faster, and we were eager to find out before we got behind it if it was worth it,” Mazzarella said. “The police commissioner came back endorsing it, not only from the data on the technology, but also from working with it in New York City. He and Ray [Tierney] are both city guys. They felt the results they had were proof enough to endorse it. The cost they’re asking is at $1.6 to $1.7 million. Our plan is to use funds from campaign finance money, $2.5 million, and some will be used for ShotSpotter.”

Mazzarella said his office didn’t get a lot of calls from constituents as far as gun violence.

“But we are in close contact with 7th Precinct and a lot of it is random, a lot of it is gang-related, and it’s just gun shots,” he said. “A lot of gangs use it to send messages, whether the shots are aimed at a car or at a house, not necessarily to kill but to send messages. Any shooting is a quality-of-life issue. But ShotSpotter can narrow the trigger-pullers down to from 3 to 6 feet. With the old system, once a shot was detected with the location, it immediately went to a dispatcher and they had to call into the precinct; now it’s an app that records the sound and pinpoints the location and directs it right to a sector car. The time difference is completely trimmed down; it’s a potential lifesaver. It’s to get there quicker and then to apprehend the shooter and then the neighborhood itself doesn’t get flooded with police. And also, within the last couple of years, residents have cameras attached to their homes. The hope is that with the system in place, you have the sound and the homeowners with cameras. The purpose of all this is deterrence.”

Police commissioner Harrison did not return a request for comment at press time.

Greater Bellport Coalition co-chairs Joann Neal and John Rogers added their experiences.

“We have had some gun violence and it is a little scary,” Neal admitted. “It’s a little better because it’s summer and people have jobs. But in the spring and winter, I heard gunshots, often in the evenings, and I didn’t know where it was coming from. I think ShotSpotter is another aid that can be done to keep the community safe. If we are eligible, we should have it.”

Rogers added this incident.

The most recent shooting was on Post Avenue about three weeks ago,” Rogers said. “A man was killed on the 600 block.” 

Rogers related that in 2010, he and community activist Tony Gazzola, with Steve Gundlach, visited the facility that housed ShotSpotter in Nassau County. “Pat Ryder was responsible and found a way to make it happen,” he said. (Ryder was commanding officer of the Asset Forfeiture Unit; he became commissioner of the Nassau County Police Department in 2018.)  “We got Caithness [Community Benefit] money and money from the Knapp-Swezey Foundation. The Fifth Precinct commanding officer inspector Mojica at the time sent us the data regularly.”

In 2010, 200 people entered the Hagerman Fire House to vent concerns about ongoing crime in East Patchogue and North Bellport. Organized by then-Legis. Kate Browning at the request of local civic leaders after the shooting of boxer Adam Willet, who recovered after critical injuries, residents pointed to police scanners that perpetrators utilized to weed out those reporting crimes in the neighborhood, resulting in fear. Emboldened, a three-minute, 35-second video of a rapper with young men displaying gang colors and professing their identity as Bloods gang members in front of various North Bellport locations, was made that same year. The video was forwarded to Browning.

The push ultimately resulted in the approval of ShotSpotter installation in North Bellport in 2011 after it was installed in Huntington Station.

ShotSpotter utilizes sound technology that detects gun shots and transmits the location to police, but funding was eliminated in 2018 by county executive Steve Bellone, who cited its ineffectiveness. However, a request to his office for comment from LIA got this response:

“County executive Bellone supports ShotSpotter.”

Tierney was asked about utilization of ShotSpotter during his career.

“I used it in Brooklyn when I ran their gang program, from 2019 to 2021 while I was at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and when I prosecuted MS-13,” he said. “I prosecuted MS-13 for 14 and a half years with the feds. They were prolific killers. You’d have cooperating witnesses. We would tell them, ‘We need you to tell us the bad things you did.’ They told us about the shootings.”

The ShotSpotter figures corroborated their statements.

“If there’s no reaction, the rival gangs go back and forth, and it escalates until someone gets hurt,” Tierney pointed out. “There’s the initial shooting, then retaliation and repeated shootings; the longer it goes on, the longer someone get hurts.”