After Too Many Shots Missed, Fall River, Mass., Ends Deal with ShotSpotter

ShotSpotter says it can no longer offer service to Fall River for free after officials balked at funding a system working less than 50 percent of the time.

by Brian Fraga, The Herald News / April 23, 2018
SST's Incident Review Center in Newark, Calif. SST

(TNS) — FALL RIVER, MASS. — The Fall River, Mass., Police Department and ShotSpotter, the $120,000-a-year gunshot detection system, have officially parted ways.

The California-based company decided it could no longer offer its service to the city for free after police and administration officials balked at funding a system that they said worked less than 50 percent of the time and even missed all seven shots that were fired when a man was killed two months ago in downtown Fall River.

"The company had asked for the chance to bring it up to par where we needed it to be, but we saw little improvement with it in the past eight or nine months," said Fall River Police Chief Al Dupere.

ShotSpotter shut the system off a few days ago following a meeting last week between a company representative, Dupere and Mayor Jasiel Correia, who criticized the company for "walking away" instead of keeping the system in place and working to improve it.

"I told them I was disappointed in ShotSpotter. I told them it's a shame for them to not at least use Fall River for publicity while they tried to make their product work as best they could," Correia said, adding that the system for now is not worth the investment.

"It's a costly system that isn't working to the effectiveness that we need it to work in order to justify the cost," Correia said.

A ShotSpotter media representative was not immediately available for comment.

Since last July, when Dupere first told ShotSpotter that he no longer planned to continue using its service, the company had kept the system live in Fall River, free of charge to the city, while trying to work out the shortcomings.

Dupere said last summer that ShotSpotter had reported too many false alarms of gunfire while missing actual shots-fired incidents in Fall River. Dupere said then that he and other city officials decided the money would be better used to expand the police department's video surveillance system in the city.

But ShotSpotter offered to improve the system and work with the city to secure grant funding, prompting local officials to re-embrace the technology.

"We are pleased with the response from ShotSpotter to our concerns," Dupere said this past December.

Four months later, however, Dupere said ShotSpotter has not improved. He told the Herald News that the system has about a 50 percent accuracy rate; far below the 90 percent mark the city was promised when it signed with the company five years ago. Dupere said ShotSpotter also missed all seven shots in the Feb. 14 murder of Maurice Timberlake, who was gunned down at the corner of South Main and Morgan streets.

"Even if nobody had gotten hit, it still missed all the gunshots," Dupere said. "That's what we're paying them for."

ShotSpotter also only detected only one of the three shots-fired calls earlier this week in the Flint and Niagara neighborhoods, officials said.

"We are not interested in paying $120,000 a year, which is police officers, which is cameras, which is vehicles, for something that works less than 50 percent of the time," Correia said.

Dupere said last week's meeting with ShotSpotter was prompted by the city's decision not to include funding for ShotSpotter in the next fiscal year that begins on July 1.

When local officials announced in October 2012 that Fall River would become the fifth city in Massachusetts to adopt ShotSpotter, the technology was hailed as an effective crime-fighting tool that would enable police officers to respond to shooting scenes quicker, interview witnesses sooner and arrest suspects that could otherwise get away.

The system was advertised as being able to report the number of gunshots, the caliber of weapons used in a shooting, the direction of gunfire and even the shooter's movement, and to relay all that information almost in real-time to police dispatchers.

While other communities have reported using it relatively well, the system in Fall River never operated smoothly. Dupere said the city was told that the system was capable "of doing things it just couldn't do."

Dupere said ShotSpotter has left its sensors in place throughout Fall River in the event that future technological upgrades allows the company to make its system work in the city.

"I'm open to it, if in the future improvements are made," Dupere said. "But right now, it doesn't make sense. It's just not working for us."

©2018 The Herald News, Fall River, Mass. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.