Critics on $3.5M ShotSpotter Contract: “it’s a tool on Black, Latino, and poor communities”; Money Should Be Used for Other Resources

By B.N. Frank

ShotSpotter gunshot detection technology is expensive.  It’s also notorious for its inaccuracies, privacy violations, and safety issues.  At least one report has determined it may not even be effective in reducing gun violence.  In 2022, community members and groups filed a lawsuit against the Detroit city council for renewing and expanding its ShotSpotter contract.  Perhaps that will happen in Houston as well.

From Gov Tech:

Debate Over Houston’s Gunshot Detection System Continues

The $3.5 million gunshot detection system from ShotSpotter Technology Inc., now two years old, continues to be a controversial issue among city leaders, community members and law enforcement.

Kennedy Sessions, Houston Chronicle

(TNS) — Since its implementation in December 2020, the gunshot detection system ShotSpotter Technology Inc. has become an ongoing subject of controversy and debate among Houston civic leaders, police and city residents.

Some view ShotSpotter, a network of auditory sensors placed in handful of the city for the stated purposes of detecting gun-related crimes in progress, as a preventative tool safeguarding vulnerable communities. Others view the technology as an expensive surveillance network targeting Black and brown people in lower-income neighborhood. Earlier this month, the city voted to approve ShotSpotter’s $3.5 million contract with the city—a move that renewed debates over the system’s merits, effectiveness and cost.

On one side there are Houston leaders and high-ranking officers with the Houston Police Department touting the technology as a vital gun violence prevention tool—one that HPD Support Services Command Assistant Chief M. W. Martin says has helped officers respond faster to shooting instances, recover evidence such as shell casings and has contributed to 100 arrests from the technology.

“Crime affects everyone in the city and has a huge cost to the city,” Martin said in an interview. “I personally don’t think its overpriced, it is a pricey system. I think anything we can do to try and address the level of gun violence and the level of fear in certain parts of our community is very important that we do that.

“We’re investing a lot of money in protecting the most vulnerable members of our community. People that are out there in neighborhoods that traditionally feel like they are forgotten sometimes,” he added.

In a presentation with Houston City Council last month, Martin told council members that out of the 5,450 published alerts registered by ShotSpotter since it began operation in 2020, 1,043 offense reports have been filed resulting in 99 arrests and 126 charges. So far this year, HPD has filed 21 offense reports out of 289 published alerts, including four charges filed and four arrests made.

But Texas Civil Rights Project Outreach Coordinator Christopher Rivera is among those who say the data and numbers presented by Martin demonstrate ShotSpotter’s ineffectiveness rather than bolster its credentials.

“It seems to be a very ineffective tool,” Rivera said. “It only results in about 20 percent that results in offense reports which means 80 percent of our resources going to this technology and coming up short. And really it’s a tool on Black, Latino, and poor communities.”

Moreover, Rivera said the $3.5 million ShotSpotter contract should be used for other resources that could also improve public safety, like housing, education, and more.

“People are concerned about gun violence, but there also other ways this money could’ve been spent to amplify the public needs,” Rivera said. “There has been a huge culmination from trash, some of these neighborhoods don’t have proper lighting, and we can invest in infrastructure. There are also issues with public transportation and a need for METRO drivers.”

“Unfortunately, the rhetoric is strong in Houston and relies on a tough-on-crime, pro-police kind of agenda where our money is consistently spent on surveillance, over-policing, jails; people understand that when an officer does misconduct, the city has to pay for that misconduct,” Rivera added. “We know that funding should go to housing, eviction protection, debt relief to the trash pickup.”

Both Martin and Rivera agreed that gun buyback programs similar to recent initiatives championed by Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis’s previous two could help decrease gun violence.

©2023 the Houston Chronicle, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Activist Post reports regularly about ShotSpotter and other privacy invasive and unsafe technologies.  For more information, visit our archives.

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