Apr 8, 2022 - News

Critics call for end of ShotSpotter tech used by CPD

Law enforcement vehicles at the scene of a shooting, with crime tape in the foreground.

The scene of a 2021 shooting involving police in Linden. Photo: Stephen Zenner/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Technology used by the Columbus Division of Police and other police departments nationwide to detect gunshots faces accusations that it confuses gunshots with other noises, like slamming doors, Axios' Russell Contreras reports.

Why it matters: False detections, critics argue, can lead officers to rush toward a peaceful area on unnecessarily high alert, creating a risk of violent interaction out of thin air.

Driving the news: Police reform group Campaign Zero launched a campaign this week to convince cities to stop using the technology, called ShotSpotter, as communities struggle with rising gun violence.

State of play: The city has used ShotSpotter since 2018 when it rolled out a pilot program in the Hilltop, Linden and South Side neighborhoods — after once rejecting the technology for being too expensive, per the Columbus Dispatch.

  • City Council has since extended the contract with ShotSpotter multiple times and approved its expansion to the Near East Side. The current contract runs through February 2023.
  • All told, Columbus has invested $2.7 million in ShotSpotter technology that has issued thousands of police alerts to date.

What's happening: Campaign Zero tells Axios its "Cancel ShotSpotter" effort comes after a yearlong study in dozens of cities that showed no proof the service reduced serious violent crime and instead increased the number of high-intensity interactions between police and civilians.

What they're saying: "ShotSpotter wastes taxpayers' money, presents a danger in some communities, particularly those of color, and it doesn't work as advertised," Campaign Zero executive director DeRay Mckesson says in a statement.

The other side: ShotSpotter disputes the claims, telling Axios its technology operated at a 97% aggregate accuracy rate for real-time detections across all of its customers between 2019 and 2021.

Zoom in: The mayor has called ShotSpotter "an important tool" in fighting crime, once pointing to its 2020 expansion as part of a citywide plan to address rising homicide counts.

  • Sgt. James Fuqua, the department's public information officer, credited the service with helping local police solve cases. He tells Axios Columbus that ShotSpotter can prevent "future criminal activity based on the community's awareness of the technology."

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