Shooting Down the Mayor’s Gunshot Locator Proposal

by Tammy Morales

Tonight Mayor Ed Murray will be at Redwing Café in Rainier Beach to discuss a proposed pilot project he’s calling Acoustic Gunshot Locator System. It’s a microphone system that triangulates a location when the sensors are triggered by the sound of gunfire. While you enjoy a grilled hummus sandwich at Redwing, ask the Mayor if this is the best use of public money – local or federal.

Across the country, this acoustic system is called ShotSpotter. It’s been successfully marketed to dozens of cities, but it’s proving to have little return on the investment. While the system generates lots of notifications when the sensors are triggered, there is little evidence that the data lead to arrests, convictions, or victim assistance. Five cities have recently canceled their contracts with ShotSpotter citing poor results. In New York City, the system triggered enough false positives that the NYPD deputy commissioner of technology called the system unsuccessful “noise.”

Recently, producer Matt Drange of NPR’s Reveal and the Center for Investigative Reporting recounted that ShotSpotter is costing communities millions of dollars. But what are they getting for that public investment? The privately held ShotSpotter company owns the equipment and the data, which means that data analysis is controlled by the company. It also means that information gathered by police is not subject to Freedom of Information Act requests.

Before the City installs surveillance equipment around our south end communities, we need to know how the data will be used and who will have access to it. Or, perhaps instead of spending federal grant money on questionable surveillance of our neighbors, the City can be persuaded to invest in youth mentoring and job creation in the South End.


6 thoughts on “Shooting Down the Mayor’s Gunshot Locator Proposal”

  1. Look, youth programs are great. However, for those kids that are already going down a life of crime and shooting up the south end I want a system in place that will actually catch them after they discharge their firearms.

    Perhaps Mrs. Morales should leave her nice home every once in a while and experience what the rest of us go through – the constant fear of being shot.

    1. Once police are inundated with false positives *and* calls from residents, what evidence is there that they will actually respond to the south end? Their track record says otherwise …

  2. White people get street cars and gourmet coffee. People of color get surveillance and police. Ed Murray is a damned racist pig. It’s time to start calling him that to his face since this city’s Democratic zombies know nothing but worship of politicians.

  3. I realize that anecdotes shouldn’t govern these kinds of decisions but I’ll share mine anyway: I was a juror on a murder trial in DC. The crime happened in the morning in the Anacostia neighborhood of DC (which has about three times as many violent crimes per capita as Rainier Beach, to put it in perspective). The defendant eventually ended up confessing to gunning down a landscaper because the landscaper “got grass on his shoes”. Because of the use of ShotSpotter technology the police were able to arrive at the scene even before the first 911 call came in. The perpetrator was arrested on the spot and eventually brought to justice.

    The technology isn’t perfect – it generates false positives – but personally I’d rather see our existing understaffed force investigating possible gunshots with fighting chance of catching the real ones than putting more units on patrol to hopefully get lucky that they happen to a) witness the crime or b) get a quick enough and detailed enough 911 call to be able to respond in time. Neither of those options seem to be working right now and even if they doubled the force tomorrow I don’t see that changing.

  4. Why was my earlier comment deleted?

    Perhaps Morales should get out of her rich neighborhood more and experience what the rest of us have to deal with – the constant fear of gun violence.

  5. I would like this system farther south on West Hill. I hear gunfire often, but because of the bowl shape of the terrain, sound bounces back and forth so it’s hard to tell where it is coming from half the time. More importantly however, I want funding made available so the King County sheriff doesn’t have to ground our helicopter coverage in a few months.