Bruce Harrell, the mayor of Seattle, has been advocating that the city adopt shooting detection technology for nearly a decade. He was originally a member of the city council, but now he is the mayor.
Harrell’s 2023-2024 budget proposal released last week includes a $1 million “gunfire detection system” to help police target the location of the shooting.
The technology works by installing microphones in communities and using them to identify gunfire and triangulation.
Harrell, who took office in January, said in a fireside chat at the GeekWire summit this week: “This is controversial to a certain extent because people do not want to supervise.”. “But I think this is actually a good technology in some areas.”
He added: “This is not a tool for crime prevention, but a tool for collecting evidence.”
ShotSpot, one of the companies that sold the technology, claimed that its accuracy was 97% according to third-party audits. ShotSpot is used in more than 135 cities nationwide, including Portland, Oregon, where officials recently approved a pilot program.
But the technology has been criticized by researchers, privacy advocates and other city leaders.
A report by MacArthur Justice Center at Northwestern University studied the ShotSpot data in Chicago over the past two years, and found that “90% of the ShotSpot alerts led the police to find no evidence to confirm the shooting when they arrived at the place where ShotSpot was sent: no cartridge case, no victim, no witness, and no gun was recovered.”
In July, MacArthur Justice Center filed a class action lawsuit against the city, demanding it stop using ShotSpot, claiming that this led to “baseless alarms” and “a large number of illegal parking and searches”
The Attorney General of Chicago also reviewed these data. Last year, he reported that “the response of the National Police Department to the alarm of the shooting case rarely produced criminal evidence related to guns, rarely led to the suspension of the investigation, or even rarely led to the recovery of evidence related to gun crimes during the suspension of the investigation.”
It added that the technology “changed the way some CPD members perceive and interact with individuals in areas where ShotSpot alerts frequently occur.”
The Dayton Police Department in Ohio recently announced that it would no longer renew its contract with ShotSpot worth 615000 dollars, saying it could not prove that the software’s efforts in reducing crime were sufficient to justify its costs.
The system is targeted at specific high crime rate areas in Dayton. The department said that during the three years of deploying Shot Spotter in Dayton, it has successfully reduced violent crimes in these areas.
“We have achieved many successes directly related to the use of this technology, including finding shooting victims, interrupting ongoing criminal activities and removing 56 guns from the streets,” the department said.
However, Dayton Police said, “It is a challenge to develop statistics to show the effectiveness of ShotSpot itself.” The reduction of violent crimes “cannot be attributed solely to the effectiveness of ShotPotter, because it is just one of the many tools used to combat violent crimes in the region.”
In a statement to GeekWire, a ShotSpot spokesman said: “Dayton PD announced that they did not intend to renew the contract with ShotPotter, which did not negate the effectiveness of ShotPotter. As PD himself said, violent crimes within its coverage did decrease.”
The Associated Press released the results of a long-term investigation on ShotSpot in 2021, and found that the system might miss live fire under the microphone, or incorrectly classify the sound of fireworks or car backfires. The report points out that the forensic medical report of ShotSpot was used in court to improperly accuse the defendant of shooting at the police or provide suspicious shooting times, leading the judge to throw evidence.
The police of Fall River, Massachusetts, told the Associated Press that ShotSpot had worked less than 50% of the time in a downtown murder case in 2018 and missed seven shots. In 2021, Fresno United School District, California, canceled the contract, after the school district initially allocated $1.25 million for children with special needs.
ShotSpot has been active in defending its products in recent years, including filing a libel lawsuit against the Deputy News. The company has published a critical report on the technology. After Vice withdrew some of the charges in the story, the lawsuit was dismissed.
ShotSpot has a dedicated web page that responds to “false statements” about its technology, including allegations that the company tampered with evidence at the request of the police department or caused excessive security.
The spokesman said ShotSpot’s computer algorithm can filter out sounds that are not gunshots. The unfiltered sounds were analyzed by trained human commentators to distinguish between gunshots and other sounds.
A spokesman said in a statement to GeekWire: “ShotSpot is an effective tool that can save lives and help law enforcement agencies deal with shooting.”. “The authorities decide whether to arrest and prosecute a person, and ShotSpot is not involved in these decisions. ShotSpot identifies and warns of the shooting, not the person.”
Seattle reported that shooting and shootings in 2021 hit a decade high.
Business leaders expressed concern about public safety in downtown Seattle. With the rise of telework, downtown Seattle has been seriously hit by the epidemic.
During the GeekWire Summit, Harrell said that he was eager to revive the vitality of the city center in the past, and admitted that he first needed to ensure that “wherever you go” can be safe. He said that this means recruiting and training more police officers and letting more city ambassadors take to the streets to help people in need.