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South Bend, Ind., Police Work to Adopt ShotSpotter Tech

The software, which launched in early July and is called ShotSpotter Connect, has had some glitches that need to be ironed out before the department can begin to judge the system’s effectiveness, officials say.

south bend, Indiana
(TNS) — The South Bend Police Department recently rolled out a new crime analysis software that officials say will improve crime prevention and officer accountability.

However, the software, which launched in early July and is called ShotSpotter Connect, has had some glitches that need to be ironed out before the department can begin to judge the system’s effectiveness, officials say.

The Connect system, which is run by the company that provides the city with gunshot detection technology, uses historic crime data in addition to other factors, such as population density, weather and the proximity to liquor stores or bars, to create an algorithm showing risk areas in the city.

Connect also directs officers’ workflow, assigning them “missions” to accomplish in at-risk areas while on duty.

“I feel comfortable and confident with the system after working through the hiccups the last couple of weeks,” said Assistant South Bend Police Chief Dan Skibins.

One early hiccup included Connect’s GPS not syncing up with the department’s existing system.

Josh Morgan, vice president of South Bend’s chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police, said another issue was that the software coded certain locations, like the lobby of the police department, as hotspots because a large number of police reports are generated there, even though the actual offenses were committed elsewhere.

Despite the kinks, Morgan said most officers see the value of the new software as they get accustomed to it.

“We have to give it time to let the algorithm start to work. We’re still addressing a few bugs in the system,” said Morgan. “Overall, the theory on how it works is something that’s obviously good.”

Thanks to troubleshooting efforts from a new crime resource specialist with the department, Connect has been working as intended for the past few weeks, according to Skibins.

The system can be set to address multiple types of crimes, though the department is currently focusing the new software on firearm-related offenses and how well Connect addresses gun violence will be a major criteria in judging the success of the system, Skibins said.

The city has seen a slight decrease in shootings this year compared to 2020. As of Thursday, the department reported that 82 people had been criminally shot, 12 of which were fatal. By Aug. 10 of 2020, the city had already seen 14 fatal shootings and 89 shooting victims.

“It’s early on for me, so I’m definitely interested in the next couple of months to see how we progress with it and see if those numbers come back down across the board,” Skibins said.

Skibins added he will also evaluate Connect on how well it increases the community’s trust in the department.

ShotSpotter Connect is a fairly new software and has been adopted by only a handful of cities across the country, including Wilmington, N.C., Savannah, Ga., and Worcester, Mass.

The technology has been criticized by activists in other cities, especially Worcester, who say the software targets minority communities. The Worcester city council approved the police department’s use of Connect earlier this year after opposition from some community groups.

Matt Whitlock, a member of the group Defund Worcester Police Department, said Connect’s use of historical crime data introduces bias as the data itself is often the product of racial profiling by police officers. The new software won’t drastically change where or how officers act, but it will give them a false sense of justification, he argued.

“Basically, there’s going to be the same problems as before, but now the police department can say ‘Well we’re doing what the computer told us to do,’” Whitlock said.

When asked about potential bias in the software, Skibins said the system uses data generated from when officers are dispatched to calls, either by 911 callers or by ShotSpotter’s gunshot detection technology, making it reliable.

“I don’t know how you go about skewing those numbers. These are victims giving us their address,” Skibins said. 911 dispatch “is sending us based on calls for service that they get.”

He added the department has not heard any similar concerns from the South Bend community.

As part of the switch to Connect, the police department has also added an additional mile of ShotSpotter’s gunshot detection technology to the city’s south side. The extra square mile was free this year, but will cost $70,000 per year moving forward.

Funding for Connect in future years will require approval from the South Bend Common Council, Skibins said. The department paid $63,750 for the software this year and its annual cost is $48,750 for future years.

© 2021 the South Bend Tribune (South Bend, Ind.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.