Durham ShotSpotter tech goes offline, city leaders speak out

Sean Coffey Image
Thursday, December 21, 2023
Durham ShotSpotter tech goes offline, city leaders speak out
Sensors are no longer active after the city council voted 4-2 on Monday not to extend their contract

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- On Wednesday, the technology touted by many as a lifesaver in the fight against gun violence in Durham has officially gone dark. Now, the city's top two elected officials are making a passionate plea for the public's help with that technology no longer there to back them up.

"People need to get involved. They need to come down to city hall. They need to fill those chambers up, and they need to let us know how they feel," Mayor Leonardo Williams told ABC11 Wednesday night.

As of 5 p.m. Wednesday, Durham's ShotSpotter sensors are no longer active after the city council voted 4-2 on Monday not to extend their contract. Critics of the program said the money could be better allocated to other avenues of need.

Williams said the outage will impact the communities who need the technology the most.

"We have to answer this moral question of 'do we want people safe?' And if we do, are we willing to invest in that? I don't want to hear, you know, proactive programming that will take five or 10 or 20 years to actually see a difference," said Williams.

The Mayor Pro Tem is calling on the community for help, too.

"If we don't have ShotSpotter, pick up the phone every time," said Mark-Anthony Middleton. "It's really important because someone's life may depend upon it."

Middleton said roughly 70% of those ShotSpotter alerts came without a corresponding 911 call. Now that it's offline, that means even more pressure on everyday people to act.

He said that's backward.

"There are people in our city tonight who have just resigned themselves to the proposition that living with constant gunfire is just the way it is in their neighborhood," Middleton said. "I think that's immoral. I think it's unacceptable. The Mayor thinks it's unacceptable as well."

Monday's action by Durham City Council wasn't a permanent end to ShotSpotter in the Bull City, only a rejection of three more months with the tech. Those sensors will remain in place and could be turned back on should city officials have a change of heart.

City officials said a Duke study analyzing the efficacy of ShotSpotter in Durham should help inform that decision in the coming months.

ALSO SEE: Office of Survivor Care proposed to help support families, victims of violent crime in Durham

Durham County Sheriff sounds off about ShotSpotter

Sheriff Clarence Birkhead issued this statement after Shotspotter went offline in Durham: "A lot of work went into bringing the ShotSpotter technology to Durham; starting with research, figuring out where best to position the sensors to detect acoustic waves of gunfire and then pinpointing it to an almost exact location where the shooting occurred, as well as educating the public about its role in reducing crime. The Bull City was one of seven other locations across North Carolina using ShotSpotter, joining Winston-Salem, Fayetteville, Wilmington, Goldsboro, Rocky Mount and Greenville.

"Since its implementation here in Durham, ShotSpotter posted more than 1,400 alerts, leading to 23 arrests, the recovery of 21 guns and the discovery of 48 gunshot wounds, according to the information reviewed in the ShotSpotter Dashboard. But these are only numbers, as data cannot measure the numbing pain gun violence leaves behind to the families of the victims and in the neighborhoods where it happens. I have heard stories this year when shots have been fired and no one contacted 911- leaving ShotSpotter to fill the gap to inform law enforcement to respond. In those same conversations, residents have expressed overwhelming support for having this technology, along with the increased presence of law enforcement in the community. You cannot put a price tag on that level of peace of mind - that level of public safety. We need every tool at our disposal to effectively attack the gun violence plaguing Durham. I recently read in an article about ShotSpotter that I believes speaks to this point; and I quote: "Gun violence is a complex issue and there is no single solution for it. However, studies have shown that ShotSpotter can contribute to reductions when used as part of a comprehensive gun crime response strategy by helping police respond quickly and precisely to incidents of gunfire, the majority of which are never called into 911. It helps law enforcement to save the lives of victims, collect evidence and find witnesses to help investigations that can lead to the identification and prosecution of offenders."

"Everything we do at the Durham County Sheriff's Office is about saving lives. My deputies work alongside Durham Police Officers daily, responding to calls for service, assisting with apprehending wanted persons, as well as the sharing of intelligence. These officers are professionals, and I know first-hand that they care about our community. I hear the counter arguments about ShotSpotter; be it cost, privacy questions and community fears about potential over-policing. My response to those arguments is simply this - not in Durham.

"The vote to not extend the ShotSpotter contract delivers a setback to law enforcement's ability to effectively address gun violence in Durham. I am disappointed that the vocal minority was able to sway City Council to vote 4-2 not to continue using this tool. I am disappointed that the voices of those suffering the plight of gun shots, gun violence, and the trauma of living in fear of being shot are largely being ignored.

"As your Sheriff, the Durham County Sheriff's Office will not be deterred by this decision. My deputies will continue responding to the cries of our local residents for increased police visibility, fair and impartial policing, and community engagement as we try to make our neighborhoods as safe as possible. I encourage others to speak out and join with me because I cannot do this alone - law enforcement cannot do this alone."