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ShotSpotter in the cross hairs

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Boston Police Commissioner Michael Cox stands at a podium during a press conference. (Photo by Michael Jonas)

CommonWealth Beacon, May 2024

Gunshots ring out in a densely populated city neighborhood. Within seconds, based on data from an array of sound sensors deployed in the area, police are able to pinpoint the exact spot where the gunfire happened and dispatch the nearest officers to the scene, giving them a leg up in the race to catch the shooter and help any victims. It’s hard to imagine why anyone would oppose having that kind of technological aid in the public-safety toolkit. But the evidence supporting gun detection technology, which has landed in scores of US cities, is not nearly that clear-cut, with the most comprehensive study to date suggesting it confers no public safety benefit.

Across the country, critics are raising questions about the impact of the high-tech gunfire locators on the heavily minority communities where they tend to be sited, asking whether they actually make those neighborhoods safer or just subject residents to more surveillance. The debate landed in Boston on Monday, where Police Commissioner Michael Cox faced tough questions at a City Council budget hearing about the city’s use of ShotSpotter, the brand name of the gun detection system the city has used since 2007. Cox told councilors the technology is “how we stay safe” and said it’s crucial to how officers are deployed in some areas. The accuracy of ShotSpotter is subject to wildly disparate claims. 

Continue reading at CommonWealth Beacon.

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