Dayton Says NO to ShotSpotter

Image credit: Forbes

Hey, everyone. Sorry for the short notice and abrupt resurrections of this email/blog, but there was less than two days to organize resistance to tomorrow's vote on an amendment that will extend the ShotSpotter contract with the City. This contract renewal was not publicized, public input on the pilot was not sought and the targeted neighborhoods were not updated.

Over the past year, I’ve worked closely with Community Police Council members and community members who do not want this highly questionable form of surveillance in their neighborhoods. I wrote the following yesterday morning upon learning that the renewal vote will be held on Wednesday:

On April 1, 2016, Silvon Simmons lay bleeding in his own backyard in Rochester, New York, after being shot by police for a crime he did not commit. To absolve themselves of blame, the Rochester Police Department allegedly manipulated data from an acoustic surveillance tool used to record and report gunshots known as ShotSpotter: 

Initially, according to company records and trial testimony reviewed by Reuters, ShotSpotter told Rochester police that it identified the sounds that night as coming from a helicopter, not a gun. Then, after Rochester police told ShotSpotter the department was investigating an officer-involved shooting, the contractor reclassified the sounds as three gunshots, “per the customer’s instruction.” After another communique from Rochester police, ShotSpotter analyzed its logs again. This time, ShotSpotter concluded that its sensors picked up four gunshots, all near Simmons’ house.

Reuters gives a full account of Silvon Simmons' lengthy legal battle with the Rochester Police Department in a special report released last week.

ShotSpotter was foisted on Dayton residents in 2019, with little public input and against complaints from the Community Police Council and some neighborhood leaders, for an initial cost of $205,000. You can view the Commission meeting on YouTube in which the will of the Community Police Council (CPC) is intentionally misrepresented and the Dayton View Triangle Federation’s president’s concerns (28:30) go unanswered. This contract is up for renewal by a vote of the Dayton City Commission on Wednesday, November 25, that will increase the total expenditure to $595,000. To defend this expenditure, the amendment cites an 8% reduction in violent crime in targeted neighborhoods, a misleading statistic without any context provided.

Cities such as Charlotte, Fresno and Sacramento have since cancelled their contracts with ShotSpotter, with Charlotte Municipal Police Department citing that the "return on investment was not high enough to justify a renewal." Toronto, Nashville and St. Paul are among cities that considered and rejected the program.

Why? Probably due to the lack of empirical evidence supporting the program's claims. Studies conducted in St. Louis and published in 2012 and 2020 could not verify the crime reduction or deterrence claims made by the company:

Our analysis suggests that police departments should have questions about AGLS’ viability as a crime-fighting tool, which is the most likely reason police departments would purchase them. Particularly, given the availability of proven alternatives, we feel a more cautious attitude towards AGLS is warranted.

In addition to the Reuters report, TIME magazine, Forbes and Police Chief Magazine have voiced concern regarding the efficacy of ShotSpotter, among many others. This broad lack of proof flies in the face of Chief Biehl’s claims of efficacy over the last year -- claims that are, again,  unverified by any independent auditor or analyst. 

ShotSpotter and other technologies that are peddled to the American public by software companies on behalf of police chiefs eager for new playthings and bigger budgets are nothing but a band-aid for a cancer patient, a placebo to placate a rightfully concerned public. Gun violence is a serious threat to urban communities. This threat demands action be taken to address root causes and enduring, systemic issues in our cities. $3905,000 is a significant sum of money that could be used to target those root causes with empirically supported, proven interventions.

The Star Tribune reported that St. Paul Council Member Dai Thao — who initially advocated for a ShotSpotter pilot program — pushed back at a meeting in November of 2019, asking the mayor, “Do you think that my kids are important to you?”

The mayor responded that he “of course” is concerned for the community’s children, “And that’s exactly why pursuing the perception of safety and buying technological toys because they sound like — and because someone told us, or maybe someone e-mailed us — that it’s an effective way to prevent and reduce gun violence in our community, is not enough,” Carter said.

No more toys for the police. Join us in demanding the contract not be renewed at the Dayton City Commission Meeting on November 25.  The deadline to submit comments for consideration is 5 PM Tuesday, Nov. 24. Please sign the petition, share it with your network, and submit a public comment to before 5pm TODAY, November 24, 2020.

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