by Carolyn Bick
Last Updated on October 12, 2022, 3:50 pm.
The Emerald’s Watchdragon reporting seeks to increase accountability within our city’s institutions through in-depth investigative journalism.
The Emerald has discovered that Mayor Bruce Harrell received small personal campaign donations from both the CEO of and a department director within ShotSpotter — a gunfire detection system that Harrell has been championing for almost 10 years — in both his 2013 mayoral campaign and his 2021 mayoral campaign.
Seattle Department of Ethics and Elections (EE) records show that ShotSpotter’s Dir. of Customer Success Alfred Lewers contributed a relatively small amount of money ($100) to Harrell’s mayoral campaign in 2021. In 2013, EE records show that ShotSpotter CEO Ralph Clark contributed $535 to Harrell’s 2013 campaign for mayor, too, in addition to the company lobbying the City in 2013 and 2014.
Personal campaign contributions from company employees are not illegal, and these are relatively small amounts of money. However, the Emerald felt it important to report on these personal donations because they were made against the backdrop of Harrell launching several attempts to bring the ShotSpotter system to Seattle over the same period of time.
Additionally, though The Seattle Times noted that in 2014 that then-Councilmember Tim Burgess, Harrell’s current public safety advisor, was skeptical of the technology, he appears to have switched tack fairly quickly, pushing that same year to install the tech in the Rainier Valley.
As The Seattle Times article above points out, ShotSpotter spent at least $4,400 lobbying the City in 2013 and 2014, despite Clark claiming at the time that he had not been “engaged” with the City of Seattle since 2012. The $4,400 appears to be separate from Clark’s personal contributions to Harrell’s 2013 campaign.
Seattle City Council (SCC) visitor logs also show that Clark visited Burgess in 2015.
The Emerald has repeatedly reached out to Harrell’s office for comment but has received no response. The Emerald has also filed several public disclosure requests for records that could shed more light on the matter.
On the morning of Oct. 12, 2022, the day after this story was published, the Emerald learned from Detroit Free Press criminal justice reporter Andrea May Sahouri that Clark also donated $1,000 to current Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan during his 2013 campaign. Not only does Detroit continue to use ShotSpotter technology, despite its history of flaws and problems — an issue the Emerald will return to in a forthcoming article — but, according to Sahouri, voted to expand ShotSpotter’s contract on Oct. 11, 2022, “despite fierce opposition.”
ShotSpotter responded to the Emerald, but did not answer any of the Emerald’s questions regarding donations to Harrell or Duggan. Instead, the company sent along the following statement:
“It does a disservice to its readers when the Emerald spends an entire article talking about two donations made years apart, fully disclosed in a public database, and totaling less than $900 rather than sharing the facts about how ShotSpotter saves lives and helps to enhance public safety in more than 135 communities across the country that want and benefit from our technology.”
Several official reports have discussed at length the problems with ShotSpotter technology that appear to dispute the above claims. While the Emerald will examine in more detail those publications and their revelations in a forthcoming article, they include reports from the City of Chicago’s Inspector General, the MacArthur Justice Center, and Policing Project, as well as the ACLU report noted earlier in this piece.
Per Will Casey at The Stranger, Public Safety and Human Services Committee Chair Lisa Herbold has also voiced opposition to the technology, based on the concerns raised in the Chicago Inspector General’s report.
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