By: Tom Duggan – July, 2014
Methuen Police Chief Joe Solomon appeared on 980WCAP’s Paying Attention Radio Program earlier this month to reveal a new safety measure being implemented in the Methuen schools to increase response time and give police a tactical advantage when dealing with school shootings.
Solomon has been the Chief of Police in Methuen since 2002, and has been a police officer for 28 years. He says he is not a politician and doesn’t really care about political ramifications when it comes to saving the lives of kids in schools, admitting that privacy advocates may object but it’s for the politicians to decide the political questions.
Solomon told the WCAP audience that being prepared for the worst is a lot better than reacting to a situation without the right tools, saying the indoor shooter detection system is one more tool to help them save lives in times of school emergencies.
The system detects a gunshot, immediately alerts police, and allows police to instantly see a map of the building on their phone and in their cars, a schematic of the room or rooms the gun was fired in, and transmitting valuable data in real time to handle one or multiple school shooters.
“I think the way we are trying to explain it is, [it’s like] a smoke detector for gunshots. We have a smoke detector and carbon monoxide detector, why wouldn’t we want a shot detector?” Solomon asked.
“In Methuen we have been saying since the early 90’s we want layers of protection,” adding “there is no one fix or solution.”
Solomon says that the indoor shot detection system can be integrated into alarm or camera systems in any school and has been used by the military for years to detect the location of gunshots on the battlefield. The device was initially developed by the military and was former Secretary of Defense Gates last orders to allow the technology to be publicly available. The system is being marketed and produced by a local company in Rowley Massachusetts called “Shooter Detection Systems.” Methuen police have been working with Shooter Detection Systems for about 18 months.
“We are working with two other communities in the area,” Solomon said, adding that he was not going to name the communities until they announce it themselves.
“We asked them to join in with us, so, initially it will just be in a pilot program in Methuen. We are working on a grant from the Department of Justice to make it a regional attack on this problem and then we are also working with a public university which, at this point we can’t name, who are going to do a research study for us.”
TESTING IN THE SCHOOLS
“Indoor detection is new, but this is a tried and true technology. It comes out of the “Boomerang X” which was developed through a defense contractor and has been in use overseas for years by our military. It’s a little circular device you wear on your shoulder and when the marines and special forces are out in the field, and a gunshot is fired, from a mile away or 200 feet away … they can look at it and it gives you the GPS coordinates and gives you a clock point. So, we were able to obtain a couple of those and we gave them to our special operations team and did some testing with them.”
“We did multiple tests inside our schools, at night and during the week, and during the day, we tested a variety of different weapons. We tested everything from handguns to assault weapons”
Solomon says that Methuen police tested weapons “as factory made” and guns that were modified with silencers. He says the shooter detection system had 100% success detecting shots in the schools they tested.
“What we liked was that it could detect a muzzle shot from a flash and the sound. This has dual capabilities so you can compare the two, to confirm there’s a shot.”
Solomon says that the police also tested various every-day sounds to see if it would set off the system as a false positive, but were unable to set off the device with any other object. The Chief worked with the engineers at Shooter Detection System as they tested the devices, sharing all of the data Methuen Police collected during their tests.
“We used a team of officers, everybody has been through a SWAT 1 and SWAT 2 tactical training class, everyone were marksmen, and every one was part of a special operations team, so that we wouldn’t have to worry about stray rounds in the schools. We wanted to cover every single base we had. We didn’t want kids to come to school to see holes in the walls.”
RESPONSE TIMES IN SCHOOL SHOOTINGS
“The biggest problem police have is: what is the time it takes from something occurring, to being reported? Once it’s reported and police arrive at the scene, how much time is it from arrival to the time of contact, because now the person has moved?”
“With the system being automated, as soon as the gunshot is detected it will send an emergency alert out. It will go to all our cruisers and our laptops. It will come in as text messages or apps on our phones, it takes the human error out.”
“In situations like this it turns out not to be seconds, it turns out to be longer because someone has to run for cover, they have to get somewhere safe, they are shaking, they have to get their phone out and, what we found out is, when they call they are either whispering or they are hysterical and it takes a while to calm them down.”
“If you could save 30 seconds to a minute… some of the first calls that come in during a shooting scene in schools have been three minutes. Think about the amount of devastation you could reduce. The second part is, we have the opportunity to have a microphone turned on, and a camera in each system. So now you can listen to what’s going on in the schools, you can hear where the shots are, and if more shots are fired it gives you the locations in the school because each one of them is going to have a GPS locator.”
EYES AND EARS IN THE SCHOOLS
Chief Solomon says that the indoor shooter detection system will allow police to talk directly to a shooter through the system. He says that those camera and microphone features are optional depending on type of facility the system is used in.
The Methuen Chief says the most important advantage he has seen with the system is that, when his officers arrive at the scene they know exactly which room the suspect is in within the building, giving them a tactical advantage to save children’s lives. He also said that the technology exists to take the shooter detection system and use it outdoors for example, in high crime neighborhoods. This would immediately detect when a gun has been used.
“The advantage of being a cop and not a politician is that I don’t have to worry about political views. It may harm me [publicly] because some people may be upset over it, but I have a job, and my job is to worry about law enforcement. You might not agree politically, you might think it’s a bad political statement particularly even talking about security. But, we do what we need to do by looking at technologies like this and trying to work together as a team to say “what can we envision happening in two or three years, because this is a long term project.”
LOCAL COMPANY DRIVES CUTTING EDGE TECHNOLOGY
Chris Connors, founder and head of Shooter Detection Systems in Rowley called into the show to discuss school shootings and how his product can save lives. He says the system is easy to install but stopped short of saying how much it would cost for a municipality to purchase, as technology is still so new for urban use.
“What we did was, we took the military capability and put it in a benign looking box that would look the same as a switch or an outlet you may have, so it fits into a standard electrical box. You screw it in and have it up and running in a couple of seconds.”
“What’s been developed in the last 10 to 15 years by the department of Defense … is basically to write the best algorithm software that can understand, listen for the sound of a gun shot, and pick that out from other noises, which is the key. You can’t have false alerts especially in schools.”
Connors says that even with silencers “there is some energy that comes out of the weapon, so we combine both listening and looking, and then immediately let everyone know that a shot has occurred in that area.”
“When you look at Sandy Hook where was six minutes, almost, for someone to call the police and the last death that happened was ten minutes after it started. If you can do the simple math and just save those six minutes, I think children’s lives would have been saved.”
Connors says that they are installing the system in a major airport this summer “it’s going to be a temporary install” and his hope is to bring the product to market and make it commercially available for private use. Connors says that all the devices are made in the United States.
METHUEN HAS POLICE IN EVERY SCHOOL
“We are very lucky in Methuen we have a police officer in every single school. Not only do we have an officer in every single school but we have a sergeant assigned to supervise the school officers and visit every school.”
Tom Duggan posed a question to Chief Solomon: “The media tells us putting cops in schools doesn’t work, but you have proof that it does work, don’t you?”
“Oh we absolutely do,” Solomon relied.
“This [cops in schools] is not about trying to just stop a shooter or reduce the outcome of a shooting, it’s about building relationships and behavioral analysis. When an officer is working in a school, he develops a relationship with the students.”
Solomon says that officers get to know the students and faculty in each school and it is easier to detect who the trouble students are. He also said that by having officers in the schools, they can be the front line if a problem occurs because the relationship they develop within the school gives them first-hand information about who or what they may be dealing with in a crisis.
“It’s not about just walking around a school with a gun, it’s about being the whole package, being a teacher, get in the classrooms and teach [safety]. I believe it is about situational awareness and behavioral analysis,” he said.
“It’s truly important to have an officer in every single school.”
Solomon says that next school year, Methuen will have five full time school officers and one full time sergeant. “I know we are the first in Massachusetts; and I would bet we are one of, if not the first in the county, to have a police officer in every single school.”
NEXT MONTH: PART II of our interview with Chief Solomon. The militarization of the Police, NEMLEC and illegal aliens.