Dec 21, 2021 - News

Denver may spend millions more on controversial ShotSpotter tech

Data: Denver Police Department; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

A controversial gunshot detection system touted by Denver police could soon be expanded using millions of taxpayers' dollars.

Why it matters: ShotSpotter — a network of sensors installed on telephone poles and streetlights that detect gunshots and alert the police — offers little evidence that it has been effective in reducing gun violence, despite its steep cost.

Driving the news: On Jan. 3, the Denver City Council is poised to approve an agreement that would renew and extend DPD's contract with ShotSpotter to December 2026 for nearly $5 million.

Flashback: As we've reported, the AI-powered tech touted by the Denver Police Department, and installed in more than 100 other cities across the country, has recently come under fire for failing to reduce gun violence and increase weapons-related arrests.

  • An AP investigation published in August called out "serious flaws" in ShotSpotter as a reliable public safety tool.
  • Numerous cities have since flagged the technology, including Chicago where the nonpartisan watchdog agency concluded the technology rarely produces evidence of gun-related crime.

By the numbers: New numbers show ShotSpotter alerts in Denver spiked in 2021 by nearly 25% compared to last year.

  • But arrests increased just 2% — the lowest percentage per alert in at least four years.

Yes, but: Denver police have recovered 120 guns this year with the help of ShotSpotter, representing double the number of illegal firearms the agency attributed to the software in 2017.

This story first appeared in the Axios Denver newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard. Subscribe here.


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