The Detroit Police Department plans to present a proposal to the City Council on Monday that would allow sound sensors that alert police of gunshots to be placed in the city.
DPD seeks to administer the gunshot detection system, called ShotSpotter, in two communities with high rates of gun violence. If approved by council, ShotSpotter would be installed in the 8th and 9th precincts, covering 6½ square miles, said Assistant Chief David LeValley.
DPD’s four-year, $1.5 million contract proposal for ShotSpotter covers installation of the sensors, annual subscription for real-time gunfire analysis and alert services, and expert witness services. The technology would go live by spring 2021.
Details of the contract being proposed by DPD. (Photo: Detroit Police Department)
ShotSpotter would add to DPD’s robust fleet of law enforcement technology, which includes facial recognition software DataWorks Plus and, separately, Project Green Light, an extensive network of high-definition cameras across the city that feeds to DPD’s Real-Time Crime Center.
Detroit is getting $100,000 as part of Operation Legend — a Trump-administration initiative to battle crime in major U.S. cities — to implement ShotSpotter.
ShotSpotter sensors are mounted on high structures like telephone poles, buildings and street lights. The technology works by detecting potential gunshots, and an expert with ShotSpotter then verifies it and alerts law enforcement. The process takes less than a minute. ShotSpotter collects the date and time, as well as audio clips captured during a shooting.
A diagram of how ShotSpotter works. (Photo: ShotSpotter)
“It can provide significantly less of a delay in police response. It really streamlines the process,” LeValley said.
DPD will not have access to audio from the sensors, LeValley said. Experts working at ShotSpotter only send DPD audio clips after verifying that the sensors indicated gunshots.
“We think it’s better that ShotSpotter monitors the sensors and that we can’t access the audio freely” so that resident concerns about police surveillance are eased, LeValley said.
Willie Burton — an elected commissioner on DPD’s civilian oversight board, the Board of Police Commissioners — said he has privacy concerns regarding ShotSpotter.
“This technology can be abused to violate our civil liberties and serve as another form of ‘techno-racism,’ unfairly targeting people of color and poor people. I am primarily concerned that this technology can be used to spy on people and record private conversations,” Burton told the Free Press.
Burton pointed to a 2015 Massachusetts court case relating to an incident in which ShotSpotter recorded a verbal exchange among people before and after a fatal shooting.
The Massachusetts court found the recording was a prohibited interception under the state’s Wiretap Act. The court granted the defendant’s motion to suppress the recording.
Recordings obtained through ShotSpotter that included snippets of conversations were also used in a 2013 California court case relating to a shooting.
“I call for a moratorium on the deployment of any of these systems until there has been a vote of the people,” Burton said.
ShotSpotter accurately detects about 80% of shots fired, according to a test conducted by the National Institute of Justice. The test found that 72% of the shots were located with a 25-foot margin of error.
Although studies show gunshot detection technology creates a more comprehensive measure of shots fired than calls-for-service data and in most cases can result in quicker police response times, it’s impact on crime is mixed, according to the Urban Institute, a Washington D.C.-based policy research think tank.
An unintended consequence of gunshot detection technology is that some residents who were aware it was used in their city stopped reporting shootings because they assumed the technology was automatically notifying their police department, the Urban Institute research team found.
DPD Captain Aric Tosqui said at a virtual neighborhood meeting about ShotSpotter on Wednesday that residents should always call 911 if they think they hear gunshots.
In this Dec. 31, 2008 file photo, engineer Stephan Noetzel alerts a police officer to gunshots using ShotSpotter, strategically placed acoustic sensors designed to help police track gunfire in East Palo Alto, Calif. Detroit Police Department is presenting a contract proposal to the City Council to bring ShotSpotter to Detroit for four years. (Photo: Mathew Sumner, AP)
Burton said if ShotSpotter is implemented in Detroit streets, every microphone must be tested to ensure it isn’t sensitive enough to pick up conversation. He added that the Board of Police Commissioners should oversee the testing and that consequences for abusing the technology should be established.
“These systems are normally deployed in so-called high-crime areas that are largely lived in by people of color,” Burton said. “Once again, one of America’s Blackest and poorest cities has become the testing ground for technology that will disproportionately violate the rights of people who look like me.”
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It’s wouldn’t be DPD’s first time using ShotSpotter. The technology was used as part of a pilot program in 2014. It spanned 3 square miles on the east side.
LeValley said the department didn’t pursue a longer-term deal at the time because of ShotSpotter’s cost and because the department was not equipped to utilize it properly.
In some cases during the pilot program, officers weren’t available to immediately respond, Tosqui said at Wednesday’s neighborhood meeting.
“In this case, we’re adding on an additional layer of officers simply for the purpose of responding to shots called,” Tosqui said.
The department is seeking federal funding for the new response unit, Tosqui said.
During the pilot period, from 2014 to 2015, DPD made nine arrests and recovered 30 weapons based on ShotSpotter data, LeValley said.
If DPD successfully uses ShotSpotter over the next few years LeValley said, “I wouldn’t be surprised if we expanded it.”
Contact Omar Abdel-Baqui: [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @omarabdelb.
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