By Brandt Williams, MPR News
It's late in the evening and you're checking your doors and windows before you go to bed. Then you hear a loud bang.
Was it a gun shot? A car backfiring? Some kind of firecracker? A few seconds later, there's more.
The loud noises actually were gun shots recorded in Minneapolis last year by "Shotspotter," the city's gunshot detection system. Police officials say they use the data collected from call records and the Shotspotter to crack down on gun violence.
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Violent crime in Minneapolis continues to fall, but some residents say the sound of gunfire in their neighborhoods is still a common occurrence.
Minneapolis police officers responded to 280 calls involving gun shots last year. The city's "Shotspotter" gunshot detection system recorded the sounds of more than 1,700 shots fired. The system also recorded the sound of more than 15,000 firecrackers or other exploding fireworks.
The system's sensors are located in areas of the city where gun violence most frequently occurs. Police officials won't say where specifically the sensors are located. They don't want to tip off offenders.
Most Shotspotter activations don't result in charges or arrests. MPR News examined 280 discharged weapons reports filed by officers last year. The reports detail evidence of gunfire. In many cases, residents called the police when they discovered damage to their homes or cars caused by bullets. The reports reveal a few intersections and blocks that were home to several discharged weapons calls last year.
One of those areas is Penn Avenue North between 34th Avenue and 35th Avenue.
Police say last April, 20 shots were fired near the intersection of 34th Avenue and Penn Avenue. Bullets struck a nearby business and the house where Jeff Martin lives. Martin said he wasn't home when the shots were fired. He later found three bullet holes in and around his front door. But he didn't call the police.
"Naw, I knew they weren't going to be of any help whatsoever," Martin said. "I knew that their interest is not in community safety. It's more in acquiring individual paychecks."
Martin is cynical because he doesn't think there's much the police can do to stop the gunshots. He's lived in this neighborhood for about 15 years and said this is the second time his house has been hit by gunfire. Martin, who lives about a mile and a half from where three-year-old Terrell Mayes, Jr. was killed by a stray bullet last week, said there has to be more of a groundswell of community reaction before the violence will stop.
"It's sad that a three-year-old lost his life before it even got started," Martin said. "But it's even sadder that there are so many people out here who have no concern for how that person who shot that gun got to be so misguided."
Jeff Martin lives near the intersection of 34th Avenue and Penn
Avenue North. Last April his house was hit by three gunshots.
Police officials acknowledge they cannot stop gun violence by themselves. But Deputy Police Chief Rob Allen said the department is taking action.
"When we're aware that a shooting has occurred, whether someone has been hit or not, we try to analyze that immediately," Allen said. "We have people in the Strategic Information Center, crime analysts who are looking at who the intended victim might have been, where the location is and what that tells us about possible gang involvement."
Allen said police analysts map the gunfire reports and look for patterns. In some cases, the department will place mobile cameras in areas that have seen an uptick in gun play. Allen said police just started doing that this year; he said anecdotal evidence shows the presence of cameras has had a calming effect. But Allen said the whole point is to use the data to help stop gun violence before it starts.
"Our strategy for the last 13 years has been to take that information and immediately use that to prevent retaliation or furtherance of what might be an emerging trend of violence," Allen said.
This strategy is a major reason why reports of violent crime have continued a several year downward trend, Allen said. Homicides in the city dipped from 39 in 2010 to 36 in 2011. The number of discharged weapons reports dropped from 295 in 2010 to 280 in 2011. Police officers also took about 200 fewer guns off the streets in 2011 than they did in 2010.
However, Allen said it's hard to draw a correlation between the number of recovered weapons and levels of violence.
Later this week, city officials will hold a press conference to discuss the official 2011 crime totals. City leaders will likely credit the department's gun violence crackdown for the reduction in reported crime.
DETAILS OF 2011 DISCHARGED WEAPONS REPORTS