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Sacramento, Calif., Renews Controversial ShotSpotter Contract

Officials say the technology is important to reduce gun violence. But activists say it also increases the frequency of police interactions, boosting risks for Black residents of becoming the victim of brutality or harassment.

(TNS) — Activists are blasting the Sacramento City Council for approving a $2.5 million five-year extension of controversial gunshot detection microphones amid a national outcry to “defund the police.”

The council approved the contract extension with ShotSpotter without discussion Tuesday. The extension, placed on the council’s consent calendar, will allow the Sacramento Police Department to continue detecting gunshots at three locations through 2025.

Police officials say the technology is important to its goal of reducing gun violence. But activists say they also increase the frequency of police interactions, which increases the risk for Black residents of becoming the victim of police brutality or harassment. The move comes amid national protests against police brutality sparked by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

While council members held the meeting virtually from their homes due to coronavirus, Black Lives Matter activists held a protest outside City Hall, urging council members to reject the item and to “defund the police.”

“At a time when the people are demanding to minimize police presence and when the mayor has said he’s committed to real systemic change, this is a slap in the face,” said Tanya Faison, a founder of Black Lives Matter Sacramento. “Our mayor is still giving the people lip service so we will still demand real actions from our electeds. This is a pivotal moment and he needs to figure out what side of history he wants to be on.”

Mayor Darrell Steinberg defended the decision Wednesday.

“This question would be better put to any parent whose child has been killed by gun violence,” Steinberg said in a statement Wednesday. “One of the most insidious public health issues is gun violence. Any tool that gets guns out of the hands of the people shooting and killing others is a good thing.”

The funding will come at least partly from the city’s Measure U sales tax revenue in the budget that starts July 1, according to the city budget document. Flojaune Cofer, chair of Measure U Citizens Advisory Commission, who’s also raised ShotSpotter concerns, wants the council to remove all $45.7 million in new and old Measure U revenue the city is planning to give the police in the new budget.

“My idea of justice is not having my murder solved,” Cofer said. “My idea of justice is never having the murder in the first place.”

Councilwoman-Elect Katie Valenzuela said the city should instead increase its funding to the nonprofits that help prevent gun violence in the first place, such as Advance Peace and the Sierra Health Foundation. City officials credited the work of those organizations, along with new city programs started with Measure U money such as “pop up” activity nights, for the fact there were no youth homicides in 2019

“This shows, yet again, that our city is more focused on criminalization than prevention, and is counter to the assertion of our leaders that they believe Black lives matter,” said Valenzuela, who will join the council in December representing midtown, downtown and Land Park.

The city first placed a ShotSpotter in north Sacramento in 2015 and then, citing its success, added one to south Sacramento in 2017 and east Sacramento in 2018, a city staff report said. From the time they were installed through February 2020, police have received 3,638 activations, which have led to 1,135 arrests, and the seizure of 450 guns.

Their exact locations are kept secret.

A Sacramento police spokesperson said the department is not involved in the placement of the technology and does not know the specific locations. A spokeswoman for the company said to contact the police department for the locations. The installation in the “south” area covers part of Oak Park, The Sacramento Bee has previously reported. It’s unclear where in “north and east Sacramento” the other two are. Two cover a three-square-mile area and one covers a 1.8-square-mile area.

The city staff report noted that ShotSpotter can be much more effective at detecting gunfire than reliance on citizen calls.

“The national average for citizens in urban areas to call the police when they hear gunshots is 12 percent,” the staff report said. “Additionally, the time delay between the gunshots being fired, the 911 call, and officers being dispatched to the location, may be several minutes. The likelihood of locating suspects, witnesses, and evidence is greatly diminished the longer the response time.”

The systems, which have been widely used by police departments across the country for several years, have been the subject of increased scrutiny lately.

Toronto ditched plans last year to start using ShotSpotter after elected officials raised privacy concerns that the microphones could pick up residents’ conversations.

The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office last year said they would stop using ShotSpotter in March due to a budget crunch.

The council pulled another item off the agenda Tuesday in order to further review it, Steinberg said at the meeting. That item was for an agreement between the city and Sheriff’s Office for the supervision of “alternative sentencing program” inmate work crews that would have provided flood control and landscaping maintenance services. Black Lives Matter had opposed that item as well.

The city has the ability to terminate the ShotSpotter contract at any time with 30 days’ notice.

©2020 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.