IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Detroit Officials Vote to Expand Police Surveillance Network

City officials approved a four-year, $1.5 million contract with ShotSpotter and the $3.9 million addition of 215 traffic light-mounted cameras across the city. The decision has raised concern among privacy advocates.

A diagram of how ShotSpotter works.
(TNS) — The Detroit City Council Tuesday overwhelmingly voted to approve the expansion of one technology and the installation of another, both of which will increase Detroit Police Department’s surveillance capabilities to the concern of some privacy advocates.

Following the council’s 8-1 approval of a four-year, $1.5 million contract proposed by the police department, gunshot detection sound sensors, called ShotSpotter, will be installed in two neighborhoods that span 6½ square miles. The technology is scheduled to go fully live by spring 2021, according to the department.

In explaining her dissenting vote regarding ShotSpotter, Councilwoman Raquel Castañeda-Lopez said she would like for the Board of Police Commissioners, the police department's civilian oversight board, to officially vote on a policy involving ShotSpotter. She said she wanted the public to be able to engage more in creating a policy.

"I don't want us to find us in a situation similar to the thing we're kind of in now with facial recognition technologies," she said.

Detroit Police Commissioner Willie Burton told the Free Press last week he is concerned that the technology could pick up voices, which has happened in other cities when gunshots were fired.

"These systems are normally deployed in so-called high-crime areas that are largely lived in by people of color," Burton said last week. "Once again, one of America’s Blackest and poorest cities has become the testing ground for technology that will disproportionately violate the rights of people who look like me."

Police will not have direct access to audio from the sensors, Detroit Assistant Chief David LeValley said. Experts working at ShotSpotter send the department audio clips only after verifying that the sensors indicated gunshots. Audio recorded by ShotSpotter is permanently deleted after 30 hours of no gunshot detection, according to police.

"We think it's better that ShotSpotter monitors the sensors and that we can't access the audio freely" so that residents' concerns about police surveillance are eased, LeValley told the Free Press last week.

The department held two public meetings last week to get citizen input on ShotSpotter.

The department is getting $100,000 as part of Operation Legend — a Trump administration initiative to battle crime in major U.S. cities — to implement ShotSpotter.


Also approved with a 8-1 vote Tuesday was a $3.9 million plan that includes the installation of 215 traffic light-mounted cameras across the city, adding to the roughly 120 cameras already operating as part of a pilot program.

Ron Brundidge, director of the Detroit Department of Public Works, said the cameras and other technology will allow the public works department to collect and analyze traffic data that can help make intersections safer and can alert the department when a traffic signal is down.

He said the cameras cannot be used with facial recognition technology nor can they be equipped with license plate readers.

“This technology doesn’t have that capability,” Brundidge said at a city council meeting Monday.

Footage from the cameras can be used, however, to aid with police investigations.

Councilman Roy McCalister Jr. expressed interest in the cameras' potential to curb “lawlessness” on Detroit streets, citing widespread reckless driving and hit-and-runs.

City Council President Pro Tempore Mary Sheffield was the sole vote against traffic camera expansion. She didn’t comment regarding her dissenting vote at Tuesday's meeting.

Castañeda-Lopez said she is in support of the traffic camera expansion plan given that there is a policy in place. However, she said she "would like that DPD directive to be strengthened, a little more restrictive than the language currently allows."

©2020 the Detroit Free Press, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.