A California high school campus was outfitted with gunshot-detecting microphones last month, making it the first school in the country to adopt such a technology.
Deployed in and around the Newark Memorial High School, the system known as “ShotSpotter” is designed to alert first responders to active shooter situations as they unfold.
“It won’t stop a school shooting but it’ll get us to the shooter quicker,” Newark Police Commander Mike Carroll told CBS News. “It’ll get us medical aid to those people who are injured in a shooting much, much faster.”
Newark Memorial principal and former police officer Phil Morales, who supports the implementation of ShotSpotter, compared the microphone system to the necessity of fire alarms.
“Why do we need a fire alarm right, it’s there,” Morales said. “If there’s a fire that happens, and the alarm goes off, we know how to react.”
According to Guadalupe Leyva, a junior at Newark Memorial, many students have already become desensitized to the microphones, which are placed in more than 20 rooms and on the school’s exterior.
“Most of the people do forget that they’re there,” Leyva said.
While law enforcement and school administrators hail the technology’s installation, local civil liberties groups say the program could be setting a troublesome precedent.
“We want our children to be safe, we also want them to be brought up as Americans who don’t feel that they’re being monitored every moment of their time,” American Civil Liberties Unions representative Jay Stanley said.
Despite the system’s microphones being found to record conversations, ShotSpotter officials have repeatedly claimed otherwise, alleging also that the school model is technologically unable.
“There is no way it can record voices,” Ralph Clark, president and chief executive officer of SST, told reporters in 2013. “It is just not possible technically.”
As far back as 2007, the opposite was proven to be true after a ShotSpotter microphone captured a conversation following a shooting in Oakland, California.
“The Shotspotter acoustic gunshot detection and location system recorded two gunshots…” a court document states. “The recording of the second shot also captured the voice of Tyrone Lyles, apparently addressing the person who shot him.”
Following the case, Clark asserted that the incident represented an “extremely rare” occurrence, alleging that the person’s voice was only captured because he was “standing underneath” one of the sensors.
In 2010 after a ShotSpotter microphone was triggered by a small plane crash in Palo Alto, California, multiple voices were captured as bystanders descended on the scene.
District attorneys in California also noted ShotSpotter’s ability to record conversations in 2012 when audio of an argument captured by a microphone was used as evidence in another homicide case.
“If the police are utilizing these conversations, then the issue is, where does it stop?” the defendant’s lawyer told the New York Times.