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Groups File Lawsuit Against Detroit ShotSpotter Contracts

The Detroit Justice Center along with Sugar Law Center and Schulz Law filed a lawsuit on behalf of community members against Detroit City Council's $8.5 million expansion of ShotSpotter surveillance technology.

(TNS) — The Detroit Justice Center along with Sugar Law Center and Schulz Law filed a lawsuit Wednesday on behalf of community members against Detroit City Council's $8.5 million expansion of ShotSpotter surveillance technology.

The lawsuit filed in Third Circuit Court alleges that over the course of the approval process, the city "failed in its duty to be transparent and meaningfully involve the community in a decision of great consequence as required by City law."

The Detroit City Council approved, in a 5-4 vote, the four-year contract in October after months of debate over the controversial system. ShotSpotter, an aerial gunfire detection system, uses sensors to pinpoint the locations of gunshot activity and sends it directly to the police.

Leaders behind the complaint are Eric Williams and Nancy Parker of the Detroit Justice Center; Tonya Myers Phillips and John Philo of Sugar Law Center for Economic and Social Justice; and Jack Schulz of Schulz Law PLC, all based in Detroit.

They claim that Detroit Police Department violated Chapter 17 of the 2019 Detroit City Code, the Community Input over Government Surveillance Ordinance which requires that the city put out a report reviewing and examining the technology, including any disparate impacts, at least 14 days prior to discussion of new technology. The ordinance is a direct response to Detroit Police Department's renewal of a 2017 contract with DataWorks for facial recognition surveillance technology.

The ordinance mandates that the report on surveillance technology provide information on cost, use and civil liberties implications of the surveillance technology. It creates a right for residents to review the report and comment on it at public meetings held to consider the procurement request.

"DPD presented a Surveillance Technology Specification Report that fails to adhere to the requirements enumerated in the Ordinance," stated Williams of the Detroit Justice Center. "The City did less than the bare minimum to meet this obligation, placing itself in violation of the law and robbing residents yet again of their right to seriously examine decisions that significantly impact their lives."

Detroit's Corporation Counsel Conrad Mallett Jr. told The Detroit News: "We believe this lawsuit to be without merit." He declined to further comment on pending litigation.

Earlier this year, the City Council approved a $1.5 million renewal of the two systems it currently operates. The $7 million went towards an expansion to 10 additional neighborhoods.

For several weeks this fall, some Detroiters protested the expansion saying they wanted a safe community where people of every ethnicity could thrive and advocated for the funding to be reconsidered for fair wages, schools and affordable housing.

The law firms believe that ShotSpotter is a "faulty waste of our precious recourses."

"This system of surveillance that not only fails to improve public safety, but undermines it by diverting resources away from public services that actually improve people's lives and address the root causes of violence. And they did so in clear violation of an ordinance they approved," Williams said.

They hope the lawsuit will void the City Council's decision and redeveloped the plan with informed public engagement.

Detroit Police Chief James White made a last-minute plea for approval in October arguing the gunfire detection system is one tool being used to try to fight shootings, some of which aren't reported by residents who have become used to frequent gunfire.

"We use that evidence to find out who was shooting," said White, adding there has been a 13% reduction in nonfatal shootings. "Last year, at the same time, there were 886 nonfatal shootings. This year, at the same time, 768 times someone has tried to kill someone and were unsuccessful. ... A rapid response needs to be in place."

© 2022 The Detroit News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.