Bradenton Housing Authority backs police effort to track gunfire

myoung@bradenton.comApril 18, 2014 

BRADENTON -- As the Bradenton Police Department pursues funding for technology to trace gunfire sources, the Bradenton Housing Authority has become an ally.

Low-income neighborhoods where the housing authority has a presence produced the most gunfire incidents over the past year, BHA Board members said Thursday.

The so-called shot-spotter technology consists of sensors that track gunfire within a 10-foot radius.

BHA Chairman Napolean Mills said the board received a letter from Bradenton Police Chief Mike Radzilowski asking them to pursue $250,000 in funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which permits 20 percent of its capital improvement funding to go toward security.

Darcy Branch, BHA acting executive director, confirmed the HUD emergency safety and security grant is available. In a letter to the chief, Branch wrote: "Due to recent events in East Bradenton involving guns, we believe that this will be our best way to fund this project."

The shot-spotter technology costs about $270,000 to install and about $180,000 to maintain annually.

Mills said he supports the partnership in trying to secure the HUD grant.

"To me, the chances of our police department surrounding a particular point in a certain amount of time to locate the person who used a gun is much greater than without the system," said Mills. "And that particular gun, if found, would not be used somewhere else. Where our community housing is located, this has happened several times."

Ward 2 Councilman Gene Brown said the goal is to involve neighborhoods, organizations and businesses in creating a fund to pay operating costs.

"If they can see the success of this program after the first year, it will be much easier to get everyone involved knowing that it's working to make these neighborhoods a safer place," said Brown.

Radzilowski was happy to hear of the housing authority's support.

"We all owe it to the people who reside here," Radzilowski said. "We are looking for the other partners like Bealls, the Pirates and Tropicana to step up."

BHA Commissioner Rigo Rivera said he wants to learn more about the shot-spotter system before supporting housing authority involvement, but said he would support an effective deterrent.

"By the time the police department gets to a shooting in some of these neighborhoods, no one wants to say anything," said Rivera. "But with something like this, we know where the shot came from, so they start with a lot more evidence. There have been several homicides in the last few years, and nobody ever seems to see anything. This could be an ace in the hole to help get these solved."

Brown said the police department is looking at covering 4 square miles within the city with the most shootings.

For now, Radzilowski said he is focused on securing funding for the first year, including installation, to see if shot spotting reduces gun violence.

"Let's see if it can justify itself for the money for the following years," Radzilowski said. "Looking at the data from other cities, it certainly has reduced gun violence. I would be surprised if it doesn't."

Mark Young, urban affairs reporter, can be reached at myoung@bradenton.com.

-- Jessica De Leon, Herald law enforcement reporter, contributed to this report.

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