The Seattle City Council voted to allocate a quarter of a million dollars toward an acoustic gunshot-locator system Monday under the condition that police could prove the technology’s effectiveness.
Despite being unable to convince residents of the “ShotSpotter” system’s necessity in 2012, City Council members, most notably Bruce Harrell, are once again pushing to blanket certain areas of the city with gun-shot detecting microphones.
“We routinely talk about using data to drive what we do as a city, and this is one of the best tools for data gathering to determine where gunshots are fired,” Harrell told the Seattle Times. “Without it, we’re relying on 911 calls.”
Although Harrell initially attempted to have the system approved without preliminary review, Council President Tim Burgess helped establish a fact-finding requirement before the Seattle Police Department could acquire the ShotSpotter system.
“I have not seen evidence that gunshot-locator systems reduce gun violence or contribute to a higher rate of arrests,” Burgess said. “That is pretty well established.”
The Seattle Privacy Coalition, a civil liberties group combating the expansion of such questionable technologies, has similarly noted the system’s failures.
“An examination of ShotSpotter’s data and research methodology dispels any hope that it has a basis in legitimate science,” the group’s ShotSpotter research piece states.
Aside from the annual cost, which is expected to reach well into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, the ShotSpotter system also raises concerns given its ability to record human voices.
“The company SST, which sells ShotSpotter technology to police departments, says on its website that ‘human voices do not trigger ShotSpotter sensors, which are placed in elevated locations in order to enhance their capability as well as ensure citizen privacy.’ But when loud noises trigger the sensors, the system can and does capture nearby voices,” notes PrivacySOS.
In one such instance, an argument recorded by a ShotSpotter microphone in California was used as evidence by district attorneys in a 2012 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.
Although the technology has had some success, multiple police departments across the country have gone as far as completely removing the system due to its multitude of problems.
Police in Oakland, who spent more than $264,000 on ShotSpotter, announced earlier this year that the system would likely be scrapped, calling it expensive and redundant.
In 2012, police in Troy, New York discontinued their system after several years of false alarms, many of which were triggered by firecrackers and squealing car brakes.
That same year, police in Trenton, New Jersey refused a ShotSpotter expansion after the system failed to alert officers to a shooting that left a man dead in the street for hours.
Even ignoring the failures, Seattle residents are unlikely to support the system’s instillation given the city’s involvement with surveillance. Whether it be their controversial mesh network or their secret participation in the TrapWire facial recognition program, the city of Seattle has long traded its residents privacy for alleged security.