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Illinois City Evaluates Public Safety Tech Amid COVID-19

Keenly aware of potential coronavirus-induced budget cuts, members of the Springfield, Ill., city council are debating whether the police department should move forward with its implementation of ShotSpotter.

by Brenden Moore, The State Journal-Register / April 29, 2020

(TNS) — Keenly aware of the potential coronavirus-induced budget crunch facing Springfield, Ill., members of the city council debated Tuesday whether the Springfield Police Department should move forward with its implementation of "ShotSpotter" technology.

Council members, discussing the measure at their Committee of the Whole meeting, weighed the merits of the technology, which police officials believe will lead to more accurate reporting of gunshots fired in town, with its cost — $838,750 over the course of a three year agreement.

"My whole problem is we can't afford this," said Ward 1 Ald. Chuck Redpath. "We're in unexplored areas right now with this corona thing, and it's going to get worse."

Redpath and Ward 10 Ald. Ralph Hanauer both suggested that a better use of the funds would be towards additional police officers who would be deployed citywide.

If implemented, the technology — a series of acoustic sensors — would only cover a 4.25-square mile area on the city's east side.

Ward 3 Ald. Doris Turner, whose ward covers much of the area where the technology would be deployed, said she was frustrated by the notion that the technology should not be supported simply because it only covers a certain area.

In any case, she said its deployment, even if just in one section of the city, would lead to citywide benefits.

"My job is to be concerned about what is going to be the best balance and and most effective to enrich the health and safety and the lives of the people that live in the Springfield community," Turner said. "So while the ShotSpotter may not cover the entire city of Springfield, the effects of the ShotSpotter will have an impact that will cover the entire city of Springfield."

And responding to concerns about the cost, Turner also said that the council "can't just send everything back to committee" as the city needs to operate.

Ward 6 Ald. Kristin DiCenso agreed.

"I don't like the price tag. I don't like where this is falling and in the time frame that it's rolling in, because we know we're facing some tough decisions," DiCenso said. "But if we don't have a safe community that people want to live in, then we don't have anything. So this is necessary."

The council moved to place the proposed agreement with ShotSpotter, Inc. on the debate agenda for next week's council meeting.

A prior motion to hold the proposal in committee failed, with only Redpath, Hanauer and Ward 7 Ald. Joe McMenamin supporting that move.

Within the designated area, the ShotSpotter would be able to pinpoint the origin of gunfire within a 25 meter radius and provide real-time information, including the number of shooters and type of weapon being used, immediately to the computers and mobile devices of Springfield police officers.

Springfield Police Chief Kenny Winslow said the acoustic sensors have already been installed and that the department would be ready to "flip the switch" on the technology within a matter of weeks should the council approve the measure next week.

For some aldermen dealing with gun violence in their wards, it can't come a moment too soon.

"As someone who represents a community that has been affected by gun violence, I am tired of telling my constituents. 'We called it in, I don't know what to tell you,'" DiCenso said. "It's an unacceptable answer and people are growing more and more upset by this by the day."

©2020 The State Journal-Register, Springfield, Ill. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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