Apr 13, 2022 - News

Critics call for end to ShotSpotter tech touted by Denver police

Denver <span style='background-color: #0b6abf; color:#fff; padding:2px'>ShotSpotter alerts</span> and <span style='background-color: #ffbc3b; padding:2px'>arrests</span>
Data: Denver Police Department; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

A national police reform group is urging Denver and other cities across the country to stop using ShotSpotter, a controversial technology system designed to detect gunshots, Axios' Russell Contreras reports.

Why it matters: The Denver City Council approved a five-year, $4.7 million contract with ShotSpotter earlier this year, despite public opposition and an Associated Press investigation that called out "serious flaws" in relying on the technology as a reliable public safety tool.

Driving the news: Campaign Zero launched "Cancel ShotSpotter" last week amid growing evidence that the technology is largely ineffective at reducing crime and can even make police interactions more dangerous.

  • Critics say it confuses gunshots with other noises, such as fireworks, and that police officers can end up rushing to peaceful scenes on unnecessarily high alert, raising the risk of violent interactions.
  • Campaign Zero tells Axios that "Cancel ShotSpotter" comes after the group conducted a year-long study of the technology in dozens of cities.

Context: As we've previously reported, ShotSpotter alerts in Denver increased 25% from 2020 to 2021, but arrests for that same timeframe only increased 2%.

  • Meanwhile, Denver taxpayers have paid roughly $6 million to foot the bill between 2015, when the agency first implemented the technology, and 2021.

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.

  • The Denver Police Department has called ShotSpotter a "valuable tool … to speed police response to gunfire, locate gunshot victims and physical evidence, and provide investigators with information," including the number of shots fired.
  • Denver police recovered 120 guns in 2021 after ShotSpotter alerts deployed, representing double the number of illegal firearms the agency attributed to the software in 2017.

The big picture: Many cities, including Denver, are dismissing proposals to overhaul police departments two years after the death of George Floyd, and instead dedicating more resources to police departments.


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