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Is ShotSpotter gunfire detection technology actually helping our communities?

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image of shotspotter technology overlooking a row of houses and buildings

NBC Boston, April 2024

When a gunshot goes off, police will tell you seconds matter, which is why for years, the gunshot warning technology called ShotSpotter has been so popular with police departments across the country. “To know where the incidents of gunshots are taking place and to be able to respond immediately, as quickly as possible, is very important to the city,” Mayor Michelle Wu said Wednesday. 

Now, a new report by the ACLU of Massachusetts is raising questions about the effectiveness of ShotSpotter. The ACLU said it analyzed 1,300 reports it obtained from Boston Police for so-called ShotSpotter activations between 2020 and 2022.

“In nearly 70% of cases, Boston Police officers found no evidence of gunfire in response to ShotSpotter alerts,” said Kade Crockford, director of the Technology for Liberty Program at the ACLU of Massachusetts. “The technology is unreliable, it is sending police looking for shooters in communities where there may not have even been a shooting.”

The ACLU has argued before that those police responses, paired with the way human analysis can be applied to the technology, can lead to an infringement on the civil liberties of people who live in the neighborhoods. Dr. Eric Piza is director of Crime Analysis Initiatives and a professor at Northeastern University. He led what is believed to be the largest study about ShotSpotter, analyzing 15 years of data in Kansas City and Chicago.

“We essentially found the technology offers some procedural benefits, for example police officers arrive on scene a little bit quicker with ShotSpotter calls, however we didn’t find any improvements on public safety,” Piza said. “Shootings did not go down in the ShotSpotter areas after the installation of ShotSpotter, shootings were not any more likely to be solved in either city after the deployment of ShotSpotter.”

Read more at NBC Boston.

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