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ShotSpotter Sues Vice Media Over Gunshot Detection Claims

The $300 million defamation claim accuses the news outlet of misrepresenting the technology's efficacy and inaccurately making data manipulation charges. ShotSpotter continues to face criticism as its technology spreads.

SST Incident Review Center
SST's Incident Review Center in Newark, Calif.
ShotSpotter has filed a $300 million defamation suit against Vice Media, which has criticized the efficiency of the vendor’s gunshot detection system and accused employees of manipulating data in favor of police and prosecutors.

The lawsuit, filed in the Superior Court of Delaware, accuses Vice of deliberately misrepresenting court records and saying ShotSpotter has engaged in illegal behavior.

Earlier this year, Vice, relying on court documents and other sources, reported that law enforcement in Chicago and other areas asked that ShotSpotter analysts change data from the company’s microphone sensors to support criminal prosecutions.

ShotSpotter continues to face questions about how well its technology works in Chicago and elsewhere even as more police departments turn to the technology to help fight crime.

The ShotSpotter lawsuit — more than 400 pages, exhibits included — offers a long list of points to counter the allegations raised by Vice in its reporting.

"Vice's reporting and related social media grossly misrepresented how ShotSpotter carefully and faithfully prepares court-admissible forensic evidence and expert witness testimony for criminal shooting proceedings," said Ralph Clark, ShotSpotter's president and CEO, in a statement. "ShotSpotter's forensic evidence has been used in over 190 court cases across the country and no court has ever found that ShotSpotter altered or fabricated evidence.”

Vice offered no immediate comment to Government Technology about the lawsuit.

In the lawsuit, ShotSpotter specifically refuted a Vice allegation that the company had changed the location of gunfire in a Chicago instance by more than a mile to favor the prosecution.

According to the gov tech provider, what really happened is that “ShotSpotter’s real-time alert accurately geolocated the shots at longitudinal and latitudinal coordinates near” a park on the South Side of Chicago.

The company said that while the street entrance for that park stood about a mile away from the edge of the park where the gunfire was located, the company did not change the geographic data but instead provided police with both the park's street address and the coordinates for the area where the gunfire was detected.

ShotSpotter accuses Vice of knowing those facts via a screenshot of that particular real-time gunshot alert that was contained in court documents reviewed by the news outlet. The company also said that its testimony and evidence would not support the prosecution in that case, and that the prosecution eventually dropped it.

The ShotSpotter lawsuit also addressed an instance in which reporting offered during a Vice podcast alleged that someone from the vendor changed data so that a reported instance of a firework was changed to a gunshot.

“Vice deliberately concealed from listeners that ShotSpotter’s human analyst was unquestionably correct: The victim was killed by a gunshot, not a firework,” according to the lawsuit.