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Increased Use Of ShotSpotter Raises Accuracy, Race Concerns

Local officials are increasingly turning to a gunshot detection technology to help address gun violence, despite serious concerns over its accuracy and potential side effects, reports The Hill. More than 130 cities and towns have now installed the ShotSpotter systems, according to a report released Thursday by the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (STOP). That’s up from about 85 cities in 2018. The expansion has been aided by federal funding, with several cities signing contracts with ShotSpotter using money from the American Rescue Plan Act. ShotSpotter’s acoustic technology has become a favored tool for police departments to identify when guns are fired and quickly deploy officers without having to wait for 911 calls. Critics contend that the system is inaccurate, puts officers into situations primed for accidents and results in over-policing of Black and other minority neighborhoods. The company claims it can correctly identify gun shots 97 percent of the time.


Studies from academics and independent government watchdogs have found that the technology suffers from serious false positive problems, failing to lead officers to gun-related crimes. While ShotSpotter has commissioned consultants to review its accuracy claims, the studies confirming the 97 percent figure have not included any data. Especially given the questions about the technology’s accuracy, having officers deployed primed to deal with gunfire creates unnecessarily dangerous situations. “Every false alarm for ShotSpotter can potentially lead to a tragic death because you have officers running into situations presuming there is an active shooter, when in fact, there can just be a backfire or fireworks,” said STOP's Albert Fox, pointing to the case of 13-year-old Adam Toledo, who was killed in Chicago last year by police dispatched after a ShotSpotter alert. The report argues that ShotSpotter can exacerbate over-policing in certain communities, saying that 75 percent of New York's police precincts that use the technology are in majority Black or Latino neighborhoods. The company defends the deployment of sensors, arguing that it is up to police to place them and that decisions are based on crime data. The STOP report maintains that law enforcement disproportionately target minority populations based on “geographically and demographically skewed crime data.”

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