Aug 26, 2022 - News

FOIA Friday: Digging into how Detroit uses ShotSpotter

Illustration of a folder with a question mark cut out of the center.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The controversial company ShotSpotter — under consideration by City Council for a new contract — is the focus of this week's public records feature.

  • ShotSpotter identifies the sound of gunshots by placing live microphones in public places and alerting police when there is "high confidence" that gunfire is detected.

Why it matters: Community activists who are lobbying council members to reject the new contract have questioned whether information about ShotSpotter's work in Detroit is publicly available.

  • The technology is currently being used in Detroit's 8th and 9th police precincts, a total of about 6.5 square miles.

What's happening: We filed a Freedom of Information Act request in June for the city's current ShotSpotter contract. The city provided the contract about a month later for free.

The intrigue: The ShotSpotter contract says "all data is owned exclusively by the city," but public statements by a company official suggest otherwise.

  • A senior VP of marketing and product strategy told NBC News that clients can freely talk about ShotSpotter's impact on gun violence, but they can't share its detailed data with the media or outside groups because the company owns it and wants to reserve the option to sell that data.

What's next: The contract describes two types of forensic reports that Detroit police can request from the company to get information about incidents of gunfire. (page 48 of the 307-page contract)

  • So we filed another public records request this week for copies of the forensic reports that police have requested from ShotSpotter over the past six months.
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