Feb 28, 2024 - News

Cleveland's mapped ShotSpotter sensors were from pilot before citywide expansion

Illustration of a collage featuring a handgun, a street light and circular lines.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

A story last week in Wired magazine revealed the locations of more than 25,000 audio sensors used to triangulate gunshots by the company known as ShotSpotter.

Why it matters: Cleveland last year spent $2.7 million in federal pandemic stimulus funds to expand its ShotSpotter contract to all five of the city's police districts after a three-year pilot on the southeast side, though the exact locations of the sensors were not publicly shared.

  • The expansion occurred even as other cities, including Dayton, severed ties with ShotSpotter in response to activist pressure and after studies demonstrated that the technology didn't significantly reduce gun deaths or improve public safety.

The latest: Chicago, which according to Wired has more than 500 sensors installed, earlier this month ended its ShotSpotter contract as well.

Between the lines: The Wired data analysis showed that sensors were installed disproportionately in areas where Black and Latino residents live, fueling the argument that ShotSpotter perpetuates biased policing.

The other side: A senior vice president at SoundThinking, the company that operates ShotSpotter, told Wired that sensors were placed after consultation with police departments based on the prevalence of gun violence.

  • In a statement to Axios, a SoundThinking spokesperson said that the company believed the data was illegally disclosed by former employees and is pursuing legal action against them.

Zoom in: The sensor locations in Cleveland, as mapped in Wired's analysis, were entirely within the 4th police district.

  • Those southeast side neighborhoods — Kinsman, Mount Pleasant, Lee-Harvard, Union-Miles — are all more than 92% Black.

Yes, but: Both the city and a SoundThinking spokesperson confirmed to Axios that after the announcement of ShotSpotter's expansion in May, the audio sensors were installed across all five police districts.

  • Mayor Justin Bibb and police leaders believe ShotSpotter has been successful — they say the pilot program helped police save 12 lives and confiscate 66 illegal firearms — but have commissioned an audit from CSU's Criminology Research Center to independently gauge its effectiveness.
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