Police chiefs critical of ShotSpotter, cities pulling out of contracts

The Seattle City Council is scheduled to vote Tuesday on whether it should use $1.5 million to fund services for tiny house villages in Seattle or ShotSpotter, a police surveillance technology that has been proven ineffective at stopping crime by almost every independent study done on it.  

“This technology simply doesn’t work. In fact, the research shows that it hurts police response times by repeatedly sending officers to mistaken alerts, pulling them away from doing work elsewhere,” said Councilmember Lisa Herbold (District 1 – West Seattle and South Park). “We absolutely need to do more to address gun violence, but this is just throwing money away. It’s money that we should be using to bring people experiencing homelessness, people who are disproportionately impacted by violence, into shelter and safety.”  

Below are just some of the reports showing how ShotSpotter technology is being rejected by cities and police departments, can hurt police response times, result in more racial bias, and violate people’s civil liberties.  

ShotSpotter Fact Sheet: Technology Proven Ineffective 

Police Chiefs critical of ShotSpotter, cities pulling out of contracts 

  • San Antonio’s chief of police led the charge to end the city’s ShotSpotter program. He said, “We made a better-than-good-faith effort trying to make it work.” Instead of renewing with ShotSpotter, he said “We’re going to use that money to provide more community engagement, which ShotSpotter can’t provide.” 
  • When Fall River, Massachusetts ended its contract with ShotSpotter, their chief of police said, “It’s a costly system that isn’t working to the effectiveness that we need it to work in order to justify the cost.”  
  • Portland, Oregon decided not to move forward with ShotSpotter in July after their mayor approved a pilot program in 2022. The mayor said he was interested in pursuing better strategies.  
  • Atlanta decided not to move forward with the technology after two separate pilot programs led to poor results.  
  • Chicago’s mayor promised to get rid of ShotSpotter in the city during his campaign. Their contract with the company is up in February.  
  • New Orleans; Dayton, OH; Charlotte, NC; and Trenton, NJ also ended their ShotSpotter contracts. 

Ineffective and hurts police response times 

  • A study found that CCTV paired with ShotSpotter-type technology, as proposed in this budget, “did not significantly affect the number of confirmed shootings, but it did increase the workload of police attending incidents for which no evidence of a shooting was found.” 
  • A study published last year of 68 large metropolitan counties in the United States found “ShotSpotter technology has no significant impact on firearm-related homicides or arrest outcomes.” 
  • An article by a crime analyst working for the St. Louis Police Department found ShotSpotter-type technology “simply seem to replace traditional calls for service and do so less efficiently and at a greater monetary cost to departments.” 
  • A report by the Chicago inspector general found that around 90 percent of ShotSpotter alerts are false positives, resulting in police being dispatched 40,000 times when no gun-related violence had taken place.  
  • The technology was found to be ineffective in a report by the City of Atlanta, costing $56,000 per gun recovered – money that would have been more effective in other programs.  

Civil liberty and equity concerns 

  • The ACLU-WA has asked the Council to reject funding ShotSpotter, “given that investing in gunshot detection and CCTV technologies will not prevent crime and violence and will adversely impact communities through increased police violence and heightened privacy risks.”  
  • Privacy advocates recently asked the Department of Justice to investigate gunshot detection companies because they lead to over policing of communities of color and may be violating the Civil Rights Act.  
  • Faulty evidence from ShotSpotter has been used to wrongfully imprison people like Michael Williams. He was held in Chicago for more than a year before the charges were dismissed and prosecutors admitted they had insufficient evidence, according to an AP report.  

Investing in things that actually prevent gun violence 

While ShotSpotter has proven to be ineffective, Seattle should absolutely be investing in urgently addressing gun violence. That’s why Councilmember Herbold has secured funding in the budget to grow the Regional Peacekeepers Collective, a network of organizations that work inside of the community to successfully disrupt gun violence. Additionally, the budget fully funds the public safety investments Mayor Bruce Harrell and Chief of Police Adrian Z. Diaz requested in September.  

What’s next?  

The Seattle City Council will host its final public hearing on the 2024 budget tonight, November 13, at 5:00 PM. Members of the public interested in investing in tiny houses over ShotSpotter should sign up to give public comment there. They can also email all nine Councilmembers at council@seattle.gov.  

The Council is scheduled to vote on ShotSpotter tomorrow, November 14, during its Select Budget Committee Meeting.  

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