Leaders Weighs Pros and Cons of ShotSpotter in Durham, N.C.

Over the past three years, the Durham Police Department has averaged 2,356 shots fired calls per year, according to the city. Now the City Council is considering gunfire detection sensors, but not all are convinced.

by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan, The News & Observer / March 8, 2019

(TNS) — On Thursday afternoon, a man was found fatally shot on Fayetteville Street in Durham, N.C.

It was the second shooting in the city in less than 24 hours. On Wednesday night, a 21 year-old man was found shot to death on Holloway Street.

On Thursday, as police investigated the homicides, the Durham City Council considered using ShotSpotter, an acoustic gunshot surveillance system that determines the location of gunfire.

The name of the latest man shot had not been released as of Thursday evening.

The man killed Wednesday, Moncel Deangelo Garrett-Richardson, 21, of Durham, suffered multiple gunshot wounds and died at a hospital, police said. A 19 year-old was arrested shortly after in relation to the shooting.

Over the past three years, the Durham Police Department has averaged 2,356 shots fired calls per year, according to the city.

Council member Mark-Anthony Middleton had previously asked the council to consider ShotSpotter technology after complaints from residents about shootings.

ShotSpotter uses sensors placed in locations where there have been reports of gun shootings.

Its range is a radius of 25 to 50 meters, which is about 82 to 164 feet. The annual cost depends on the number of sensors used. ShotSpotter typically distributes 20 to 25 sensors per square mile.

Phil Dailly of ShotSpotter and a former Baltimore city police sergeant, said less than 20 percent of shootings nationwide are reported to 911.

The sensors are passive until they hear an “explosive type sound,” Dailly said, then software filters out any sound that is not gunfire before it is sent to acoustics experts who confirm it is gunfire.

It is then sent online to police computers, tablets or smartphones within 30 to 60 seconds of the trigger time, Dailly said. The data sent includes the location, number of shots, if there appear to be multiple shooters and if the gun is high capacity or automatic.

If Durham decides to get ShotSpotter for a three-mile radius, the first year would cost $235,000 including set up and training, with an annual cost of $195,000 after that.

ShotSpotter is used in other North Carolina cities including Rocky Mount, Wilmington, Greenville and Goldsboro. Other states such as California, New York, New Jersey, Missouri and Massachusetts have multiple cities using the technology.

In Chicago, ShotSpotter is tied in with the city’s camera system, too. Council member Javiera Caballero said when she lived in Chicago, residents would just shoot out the cameras.

However in Charlotte, the city has decided to stop spending $160,000 annually on ShotSpotter, claiming the return on investment was not high enough, The Charlotte Observer reported.

Gun Violence

On Monday, Durham Police Chief Cerelyn “CJ” Davis gave the annual crime report, which showed that overall, crime decreased, though homicides increased in 2018.

According to the Police Department, there were 619 shootings last year. The police also reported 729 shooting in 2017 and 703 in 2016.

Middleton grew up in Red Hook in Brooklyn, which he said was known as the “crack capital” in the 1980s. He said his neighborhood became desensitized to gun violence.

“The good news in Durham is that crime is down ... but there’s a different reality for those of us who live in certain neighborhoods,” he said, later adding, “ I think we as a government should consider this.”

Council member Vernetta Alston said she was concerned there isn’t data showing ShotSpotter curbs gun violence.

She wanted to know how the data is stored and said she is concerned about “false positive” reports of gunfire or the possibility of recording bystanders’ voices. She said she doesn’t want communities to feel targeted by geofencing.

Mayor Pro Tem Jillian Johnson said she would rather use alternatives tg more government surveillance unless there is more data to show the impact on public safety.

But Middleton said the council agreed to spend $2.4 million on the city’s new participatory budgeting program, and he didn’t see data that showed it significantly increased democratic participation.

“If not this, then what?” he said.

Mayor Steve Schewel said he would defer to what Davis and the Police Department wanted to do. Davis also heard the presentation Thursday.

©2019 The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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