Seattle Mayor Makes Another Bid for City to Use Controversial Gunshot Detection Technology – GeekWire

Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell speaks at the GeekWire Summit on Block 41 in Seattle on October 6. (GeekWire Photo / Dan DeLong)

Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell has been advocating for the city to adopt gunshot detection technology for nearly a decade, first as a member of the City Council and now as mayor.

Harrell’s 2023-2024 budget proposal, released last week, includes $1 million for a “gunshot detection system” to help police zero in on where shots are being fired.

The technology works by installing microphones in neighborhoods and using them to identify the sound of gunshots and triangulate their location.

“It comes with a certain level of controversy, because people don’t want to police,” Harrell, who took office in January, said during a fireside chat at this week’s GeekWire Summit. “But I think it’s actually good technology in certain areas.”

And he added: “It is not a crime prevention tool. It is an evidence collection tool.”

ShotSpotter, one of the companies selling the technology, claims to have a 97% accuracy rate, based on a third-party audit. ShotSpotter is used in more than 135 cities across the country, including Portland, Oregon, where city officials recently approved a pilot program.

But the technology has drawn criticism from researchers, privacy advocates and other city leaders.

A report from the MacArthur Justice Center at Northwestern University studied two years of Chicago ShotSpotter data and found that “90% of ShotSpotter alerts lead police to find no corroborating evidence of shooting when police arrive on the scene.” where ShotSpotter sent them: no shell casings, no victims, no witnesses, no weapons recovered.”

In July, the MacArthur Justice Center filed a class action lawsuit against the city to end the use of ShotSpotter, alleging that it generated “unfounded alerts” and “a large number of illegal stop and frisks.”

Chicago’s inspector general also reviewed the data and reported last year that “CPD responses to ShotSpotter alerts rarely produce evidence of a gun-related crime, rarely lead to investigative stops, and even less frequently lead to the recovery of evidence related to weapons offenses during an investigative stop.”

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He added that the technology “changed the way some CPD members perceive and interact with people present in areas where ShotSpotter alerts are frequent.”

A diagram of ShotSpotter showing how its technology works. Click to enlarge. (Image by ShotSpotter)

The Dayton, Ohio, police department recently announced it would not renew its $615,000 contract with ShotSpotter, saying it couldn’t prove the software has done enough to reduce crime to justify its cost.

The system targeted specific high-crime areas of Dayton, and the department said it has been successful in reducing violent crime in those locations during the three years Shot Spotter has been deployed in the city.

“We have had multiple successes directly related to the use of this technology, including locating shooting victims, disrupting crimes in progress, and removing 56 firearms from the streets,” the department said.

However, Dayton police said “it is a challenge to develop statistics that show how effective ShotSpotter would be on its own.” The decline in violent crime “cannot be attributed solely to the effectiveness of ShotSpotter, as it was just one of many tools used to combat violent crime in this area.”

In a statement to GeekWire, a ShotSpotter spokesperson said, “The Dayton Police Department’s announcement of its intention not to renew its contract with ShotSpotter does not negate the effectiveness of ShotSpotter. As the PD itself indicated, the coverage area did see a reduction in violent crime.”

The Associated Press in 2021 published the results of a lengthy investigation into ShotSpotter and found that the system can miss live shots right under its microphones, or misclassify the sounds of fireworks or car shots. ShotSpotter’s forensic reports have been used in court to improperly claim that defendants have shot at police or provide questionable accounts of the number of shots allegedly fired, leading judges to dismiss evidence, the report says. report.

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Police in Fall River, Massachusetts, told the AP that ShotSpotter worked less than 50% of the time and missed all seven shots in a downtown murder in 2018. The Fresno Unified School District in California canceled its contract in 2021, after spending $1.25 million initially earmarked for children with special needs.

ShotSpotter has aggressively defended its product in recent years, including filing a libel lawsuit against Vice News, which produced a critical report on the technology. The lawsuit was dismissed after Vice retracted some of the claims in the story.

ShotSpotter has a dedicated web page with responses to “false claims” about its technology, including accusations that the company alters evidence at the request of police departments, or leads to excessive surveillance.

ShotSpotter’s computer algorithm filters out sounds that are not gunshots, the spokesman said. Unfiltered sounds are analyzed by human reviewers trained to distinguish gunshot sounds from other sounds.

“ShotSpotter is a proven tool that saves lives and helps law enforcement respond to gunshots,” a spokesperson said in a statement to GeekWire. “Authorities decide whether to arrest and prosecute someone and ShotSpotter is not involved in those decisions. ShotSpotter identifies and alerts on shooting incidents, not people.”

The city of Seattle reported a ten-year high of shootings and shootings in 2021.

Business leaders have raised concerns about public safety issues in downtown Seattle, which has been hit hard by the pandemic with the rise of remote work.

During his appearance at the GeekWire Summit, Harrell said he’s eager to revive the old vibrancy of downtown, acknowledging that he must first make it safe “wherever he goes.” That means recruiting and training more police officers and getting more city ambassadors out on the streets to help people in need, he said.

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