ShotSpotter's CEO takes questions from skeptical Durham residents after weekend of gun violence

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ByJoel Brown via WTVD logo
Tuesday, June 28, 2022
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After years of stops and starts, ShotSpotter gunfire detection is coming to the Bull City. But the debate in Durham over the controversial technology is far from over.

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- After years of stops and starts, ShotSpotter gunfire detection is coming to the Bull City. But the debate in Durham over the controversial technology is far from over.

"This technology's been around since the '90s-- this is not new technology," said Durham Mayor Pro-Tem Mark-Anthony Middleton who called this community meeting with the CEO of ShotSpotter.

Middleton has championed the system in the city council - helping convince city leaders to invest $197,000 for a pilot program of the technology that uses acoustic sensors in neighborhoods to detect and locate gunshots using triangulation.

ShotSpotter CEO Ralph Clark told the crowd at St. Joseph's AME Church on Monday night that the tech is not just a deterrent for firing a gun, it's a crime-solving tool that gives police a way to track every incident of gunfire; tracking every bullet; connecting the dots to helping solve crimes past and future.

One woman asked -- police will know where the gunshots came from -- what about us? The data won't be made public by ShotSpotter.

"Although we do encourage our subscribing agencies to aggregate the data and then reflect that data back to the community in terms of an open portal, so you can see over the last 30 days where the shootings have happened," said ShotSpotter CEO Ralph Clark.

Monday night's meeting comes on the heels of an especially bloody weekend in Durham: Three separate shootings between Friday and Sunday nights. Durham Mayor Elaine O'Neal began the meeting by remembering the victims.

RELATED: 'Cops get here too late': Durham residents hoping ShotSpotter technology helps combat gun violence

From the microphone and from his chair -- one resident unleashed his frustration over Durham Police's response times to non-gun-related crimes. He was skeptical that ShotSpotter can make a difference.

"If police can't come when you call 911, what makes you think y'all gonna come and equip them?" He asked. "He can't tell me. He can't even answer that. You can't even answer that."

ShotSpotter has come under criticism from privacy advocates and others who believe the technology encourages over-policing of Black and other minority neighborhoods.

A woman rose to question the CEO about a Vice Media report from last year that alleged ShotSpotter changed data from the company's microphone sensors to support criminal prosecutions. It's a charge the CEO called outlandish and dangerous.

"And for that reason, for the first time ever -- we've engaged in a defamation lawsuit against Vice because that was categorically not the case," Clark told the crowd.

ShotSpotter is suing Vice Media for $300 million.

Meanwhile, ShotSpotter is now full-speed ahead in Durham. No specifics were given Monday night about in which neighborhoods the technology will be installed.