In 2019, Dayton, Ohio, approved the use of ShotSpotter gunshot detection technology in the heart of the city’s Black community. The contract came up for extension in 2020 and was extended, even though local activists circulated a petition demanding the city drop the technology. How the Dayton Police Department ultimately decided to comply with those demands, dropping its ShotSpotter contract when it ran out last December, is a study in how challenging it is to prove the technology's effectiveness, Bolts reports. The company, which rebranded in April as SoundThinking, is in use around the country and is worth around $260 million. It uses microphones to feed sound into software that the company says identifies gunshots and alerts staffers, who then notify local cops.
Dayton isn't alone in its qualms. The company claims it is nearly flawless, but researchers and lawyers have challenged its effectiveness. An Associated Press investigation last year found that the company’s microphones can miss gunfire that happens right under them, misclassify fireworks or sounds from cars as gunshots, and that company employees can, and often do, alter evidence gathered by the technology. The largest peer-reviewed study of the technology found that it didn’t significantly reduce gun deaths or increase public safety. Other outside research has concluded the technology largely results in dead-ends for police. Some Dayton residents living in the area where ShotSpotter microphones were deployed reported being harassed by police who were responding to a report of shots fired and feel the technology fueled racial profiling. Jacob Wourms, a Dayton resident and researcher with the police reform group Campaign Zero, told Bolts that ShotSpotter ratcheted up potentially dangerous police encounters in a predominantly Black area of the city. He recalled being on a police ride-along in west Dayton last summer when ShotSpotter alerts for gunshots began to ping on the officer’s phone. “We get to the location, and it was two little boys shooting off fireworks with their grandparents,” Wourms said.