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Detroit Officials to Revisit $5.8M Expansion of ShotSpotter

Following months of debate, the Detroit City Council will vote next week on an $8.5 million expansion of ShotSpotter, a controversial gunfire detection system, to combat crime in neighborhoods.

(TNS) — Following months of debate, the Detroit City Council will vote next week on an $8.5 million expansion of ShotSpotter, a controversial gunfire detection system, to combat crime in neighborhoods.

The City Council's Public Health and Safety Standing Committee on Monday voted unanimously to send the expansion forward without recommendation to its full nine-member body.

ShotSpotter, an aerial gunfire detection system that uses sensors to pinpoint the locations of gunshot activity, is used in other major cities. On Monday, three of the councilmembers — District 6 Councilwoman Gabriela Santiago-Romero, At-Large Councilwoman Mary Waters and District 3 Councilman Scott Benson — questioned its effectiveness.

Of the $8.5 million requested, police are asking $7 million for expanding the California-based system to additional Detroit neighborhoods and a $1.5 million continuation of the existing system utilizing pandemic relief funds. The full council will vote on Sept. 20.

Detroit Police installed the system in 2020, when it first approved a $1.5 million four-year contract. Committee Chair Gabriela Santiago-Romero said the system costs an estimated $5,837 for every gun removed off the street.

In June, when the initiative was first postponed by the committee, Santiago-Romero cited DPD data that says officers have removed 257 guns off the streets since they started with the initial $1.5 million contract.

The latest request would expand the software to different districts, not the entire city, Santiago-Romero noted. However, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and Police Chief James White have highlighted the system recently during gunfire tragedies, saying had they had an expansion of the system, ShotSpotter "could have prevented" those incidents.

Santiago-Romero, alongside community organizers, held a press conference Friday saying an expansion of ShotSpotter would be wasteful and ineffective, as well as the significant threat it poses to civil liberties in an era of ever-heightening police militarization and surveillance.

Waters said while emotions are high, "we cannot ignore the experience of cities like Chicago, San Antonio, Charlotte and others."

" ShotSpotter has not worked for (other major cities) and individuals have been wrongfully incarcerated. This body has settled too many of those cases with millions of dollars. Frankly, ShotSpotter cannot withstand a serious cost-benefit analysis," Waters said. "We must not be driven by fear to bad decisions. ShotSpotter has simply not proven to be effective."

Two residents who opposed the expansion said Monday that "like any technology, it has its flaws" and that the funding could be put to better use.

White addressed the committee saying ShotSpotter is a tool to tell police that someone in a particular area is shooting and that the difference of an instant notice makes a "life-saving difference."

White said areas in which ShotSpotter has been deployed have seen a 27% reduction in fatal shootings and a 43% reduction in shots fired incidents.

"That status suggested more than simply an improvement in the quality of life and suggests that the police department is deterring behavior," White said of ShotSpotter's impact. "We are still too violent in our community and we have a lot of work to do. For example, Southwest Detroit has seen a surge in shootings and we know this is gang-related. We also had a teenager who was murdered earlier this summer in front of his home because of an issue with a cellphone."

White said had the ShotSpotter expansion already been implemented, two officers' lives could had been saved.

"Our late hero Officer Loren Courts would have known where the gunfire that precipitated his response was coming from. Meaning, he pulled right in front of the area because he simply did not know that he was at the exact location where shots were coming from," White said. "The same occurred with Officer Glenn Doss."

Courts was killed this summer when he and his partner were ambushed while responding to a 911 call reporting shots fired on the city's west side. Doss died four days after being shot in the head while responding to a domestic violence call in 2018.

White disputed claims that ShotSpotter infringes upon an individual's right to privacy.

"There is nothing private about firing shots in our community. Period," said White, adding there were 18 shootings this past weekend. "We know sadly our community hears so much gunfire that they've become desensitized to gunfire, they don't even look out the window sometimes or make that initial call."

Benson said he has supported ShotSpotter since the pilot program operated in his neighborhood in the 9th Precinct. He questioned the wraparound services that were promised along with ShotSpotter.

"Going into those areas is a layered approach. Being on the ground, making those arrests, getting those shooters and illegal guns off the street and then coming back and bringing those resources to the community to assist them," Benson said. "What are we doing to support those families on the ground after this shooting?"

Sandra Turner-Handy, who lives in one of the city's most violent crime ZIP codes — 48205 — advocated for ShotSpotter Monday, saying it has been helping take guns off the street in the 9th Precinct.

"People who don't live where there's high crime don't understand how gun violence really impacts our quality of life," Turner-Handy said. "I do not want our kids in this community feeling like this is normal. We have a technology that's not discriminatory, it doesn't show if you're a man or a woman, it's a technology that's needed and necessary if we are to make safety a priority."

Lawanda Melton, grandmother of 11-year-old Saniyah Pugh who was fatally struck by a bullet during a sleepover in June, said the police department has been doing a great job but believes Saniyah would still be alive if there was a crackdown in gun violence.

"It felt like hours before police and EMS got there. I had to sit and watch my granddaughter lose her life and try to breathe and it's nothing that I would want or wish for anyone, not even my worst enemy," Melton told the council committee. "I think we could have saved Saniyah's life."

Bishop Daryl Harris said there was initially conflict at first for him to support the expansion, but he's recently had to help bury a 5-year-old child who was fatally shot.

"How much better could it have been if we had ShotSpotter to get medical attention along with the police department? Maybe today we will be looking at that 5-year-old and I'm hoping the city will reconsider," he said. "I thought about those that live in the community where gunfire is rapid and people don't even call the police anymore because of the response time. But if we could cut that down with ShotSpotter, that would be great."

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