A report that came out in July criticized gunshot detection systems used by cities across the country as ineffective, wasting police officers’ time and targeting overpoliced communities but the administration of Governor Phil Murphy is squandering $17 million in federal American Rescue Plan grant money to acquire and expand the technology in New Jersey.
Another critical report on the ShotSpotter gunshot detection system issued last year by the City of Chicago’s Inspector General (IG) was cited by the American Civil Liberties Union because it indicated four serious problems with the gunshot detection company and its technology, including its methodology, effectiveness, impact on communities of color, and relationship with law enforcement.
Chicago’s IG questioned the “operational value” of the technology and found that it increases the incidence of stop-and-frisk tactics by police officers in some neighborhoods.
“The New York City and Chicago police departments spend millions of dollars a year on gunshot detection technology that privacy advocates have said is ineffective and invasive, but the Murphy administration is wasting $17 million in federal taxpayer money to subject New Jersey citizens to these violations,” said Lisa McCormick, who has pointed out that the vast majority of crimes reported to police go unsolved despite massive public spending.
McCormick also said the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project found that these discredited systems often target communities with such serious abuse as discriminatory spying on innocent Americans.
“Evidence that Shotspotter wastes officers’ time by prompting a response to calls that are not gunfire, or that it doesn’t result in more arrests and convictions,” said McCormick. “Gunshot detection technology increases adversarial attention on historically overpoliced neighborhoods and microphones can record private conversations of people in those neighborhoods without a court warrant.”
Companies market detection technology systems using audio sensors, computer software, and human analysts to identify gunshots but Fall River, Massachusetts, police abandoned a contract after ShotSpotter worked less than half of the time and even missed all seven shots in a downtown murder in 2018.
“Without evidence that the technology effectively combats gun violence, it makes more sense that government should be reinvesting the money to combat the root causes of gun violence,” said McCormick.
According to a study of major cities utilizing the technology, only one arrest is made for every 200 notifications.
In an analysis of 50,000 ShotSpotter notifications in Chicago, 244 arrests were made and 152 guns were recovered according to the report.
The MacArthur Justice Center’s report found that in Chicago, initial police responses to 88.7 percent of ShotSpotter alerts found no incidents involving a gun.
A federal class-action lawsuit filed in Chicago alleges that police misused “unreliable” gunshot detection technology in charging 65-year-old Michael Williams with a 2020 murder for which he spent nearly a year in jail before a judge dismissed his case.
The lawsuit filed by the MacArthur Justice Center at Northwestern University’s law school also details the case of a second plaintiff, Daniel Ortiz, a 36-year-old father who was arbitrarily arrested and jailed by police who were responding to a ShotSpotter alert.
In Brockton, MA, the technology increased police activity but did not improve gun-related case resolutions.
In Syracuse, NY, a study of the technology showed that ShotSpotter fails as an investigative tool, providing no evidence of a gun-related crime more than 90% of the time.
“It is one thing to talk about putting more officers on the beat for community policing, expanding evidence-based community violence intervention programs, and preventing crime by making our neighborhoods stronger with more educational and economic opportunities,” said McCormick. “It is an entirely different thing to be accountable to taxpayers and demand that law enforcement agencies get results when it comes to public safety and violence prevention.”