Fayetteville residents pushing back against city's plans to install ShotSpotter gun technology

Monique John Image
Friday, December 9, 2022
Fayetteville residents pushing back on plans to install ShotSpotter
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Some Fayetteville residents are pushing back against the city's plans to install ShotSpotter, the gunshot detection technology.

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (WTVD) -- Some Fayetteville residents are pushing back against the city's plans to install ShotSpotter, the gunshot detection technology. The technology is meant to help law enforcement crack down on crime by identifying where gun activity is happening more quickly. However, critics are poking holes in the technology's credibility amid this week's info sessions about the system.

So far, the response has been overwhelmingly negative from residents who came out to learn about ShotSpotter from Wednesday's info session. They told ABC11 that they're concerned the technology isn't reliable. Critics pointed out that despite positive reviews from some police departments in other cities, the gunshot detection technology hasn't been scientifically proven.

Critics also worry that false readings of gun shots could lead to false arrests, convictions and dangerous -- if not deadly encounters with the police. They're worried Blacks and other ethnic minorities could be profiled if officers are motivated to make arrests in an area because of there being recent gun activity.

"If I fire a gun in my neighborhood, and I'm doing something wrong, I'm not hanging around after I fire the gun to get caught. However, just take me for instance, if I don't hear my hearing aide, and I'm alone, I don't hear gunshots firing. If I'm in my house. I may walk outside at the same time the police arrive. And I'm going to be a suspect," said James Buxton, the president of the Fayetteville NAACP Chapter.

The police reform nonprofit Campaign Zero is one of the most outspoken critics of ShotSpotter.

Abby Magaraci, an advocate with Campaign Zero, said she once worked at a 911 call center and experienced firsthand how ineffective ShotSpotter was for emergency responders.

"The ShotSpotter crew is great at giving this awesome sales pitch of what ShotSpotter should be and what they say it's going to do," she said. "But the research does not back that up, and we also know that in reality that's not what's happening in the emergency situations, like with first responders especially. Shotspotter would go off, and we would not get the information that we needed in order to send the proper first responders. We were getting better information from 911 calls directly from civilians."

However, a major thing that residents said they're frustrated about is that the city council already voted to allocate $200,000 a year to enter a contract with ShotSpotter without getting residents' feedback.

"The technology does not have the level of confidence that it promotes. It's technology that can be used and set up in communities, but in terms of the effectiveness of that technology, I just think that a $200,000 investment could have been used to enhance some of our community policing programs, gang prevention, other ways that we could have addressed gun violence in our community," said Johnette Henderson.

Valerie Simpson added: "They're not communicating with the town. They're not communicating with these neighborhoods to let us know that there's pros and cons to everything. They're not doing that and I really don't think it's fair."

Campaign Zero had a special message for city officials considering ShotSpotter in the future.

"There's plenty of cities to talk to who've tried the technology realized It's not what it's advertised to be and then moved on. And so we would say, before cities get stuck in the same position of trying and realizing it's not as it's advertised. speak to those who have already gone through that process," said Jacob Wourms,

A statement from ShotSpotter reads:

According to the Brookings Institution, more than 80% of gunfire incidents go unreported to 911. ShotSpotter is an acoustic gunshot detection system that fills that data gap by alerting police of virtually all gunfire in a city's ShotSpotter coverage area within 60 seconds. With a growing list of over 135 cities using ShotSpotter and a 99% renewal rate, we're confident that our technology will help make communities safer by enabling a faster, more precise police response to gunshot incidents than 911 to help save the lives of victims and find critical evidence.

The ShotSpotter system is highly accurate, with a 97% accuracy rate for detections across all police department customers for the last three years as independently verified by data analytics firm Edgeworth Analytics. ShotSpotter sensors listen for loud, impulsive sounds - pops, booms, and bangs - that may be gunfire. Once captured, ShotSpotter's computers dismiss sounds that are clearly not gunfire, such as fireworks or helicopters. The remaining sounds are immediately sent to and reviewed by highly trained acoustic experts at our 24x7 Incident Review Centers, who are able to play back the recorded sound and visually analyze the audio waveforms to see if they match the typical pattern of gunfire, assess the grouping of sensors that participated, and either publish the incident to the police as gunfire, or dismiss as a non-gunfire event. ShotSpotter reviewers are only deployed if they are able to detect gunfire with 99% accuracy or higher. The company continuously monitors the performance of human reviewers and provides additional training if needed.

To help address the root causes of gun violence, ShotSpotter's Data for Good initiative, led by our community engagement team, shares data on where gunfire is occurring so community violence intervention groups, schools, and mental health professionals, can provide services, counseling, and economic assistance.

There is zero data supporting the claim that ShotSpotter puts police on high alert or creates dangerous situations. Rather, ShotSpotter equips police officers with more information than they might typically have when arriving to the scene of a gunshot incident, and they arrive at the scene more situationally aware.

Cities that use ShotSpotter report that they have consistently found gunshot victims when no one calls 911. For example, Oakland police reported that in 2020 they were able to find and coordinate immediate medical response to 101 surviving victims found. Pittsburgh announced that ShotSpotter was the only reporting mechanism to first responders for 13 shooting victims whose lives they saved in a two-year span. And West Palm Beach, FL was recognized by the US Conference of Mayors for its partnership with ShotSpotter to save the lives of its residents.

Fayetteville police and the city have yet to respond to our request from comment on the concerns raised by residents.

There will be a final ShotSpotter info session via Zoom at noon on Friday.