IE 11 Not Supported

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

ShotSpotter Contract Clears Durham, N.C., City Council

ShotSpotter and Durham leaders agreed on a contract, clearing the way for the gunshot surveillance company to install acoustic sensors in the city, and the company has asked public schools in the area to participate.

(TNS) — ShotSpotter and Durham leaders agreed on a contract this week, clearing the way for the gunshot surveillance company to install acoustic sensors in the city, and the company has asked public schools in the coverage area to participate.

The yearlong pilot will be limited to 3 square miles in East and Southeast Durham where the city says a third of all gunshot injuries and deaths occur.

Gary Bunyard, senior vice president of sales and security at ShotSpotter, told The News & Observer the company reached out to Durham Public Schools for permission to place sensors on school buildings.

“We’re working through that process with the schools,” Bunyard said.

Four DPS schools lie within the boundaries:

  • C.C. Spaulding Elementary
  • Burton Elementary
  • Eastway Elementary
  • The Whitted School (pre-K)

A schools spokesperson did not reply to multiple requests for information. The Board of Education’s next meeting is Thursday at 6:30 p.m.

ShotSpotter plans to start in Durham this fall

The California company will be paid $197,500 for the first year, plus $28,000 for a program to integrate its technology with the 911 center.

“This will be the most transparent, studied, vetted pilot in the history of this city,” said Mayor Pro Tem Mark-Anthony Middleton, who has been advocating for the technology for years. “If one life is saved because we got there and were able to give them a life-saving intervention at that moment, I’ll be voting for it again next year.”

This final vote on the contract Monday night passed the City Council 5-2, with members Jillian Johnson and Javiera Caballero voting against it.

“If this technology leads to one person losing their life, or this technology leads to one person being falsely imprisoned on charges related to the technology detecting gunfire when there wasn’t any gunfire,” Johnson countered. “Both of which have happened in other cities in this country.”

The company is aiming to launch by mid-November, though local leaders were aiming for the summer, when gun violence typically spikes in American cities.

Monday night’s vote happened amid a surge in homicides after a month of relative calm. Five homicides were reported in Durham inunder two weeks:

  • Sept. 8: Wahid Downey, 18, who died in the hospital after being shot midday near the McDougald Terrace apartments
  • Sept. 8: Marcus Ortega-Burch, 20, shot late at night in southern Durham
  • Sept. 11: Anthony Giles, 23, shot late in the afternoon in southern Durham along with two others, both of whom survived
  • Sept. 13: Jivon Cherry, 39, found dead inside the trunk of a car near Research Triangle Park
  • Sept. 18: Guadalupe Ordonez-Alejandro, 23, shot around 2 a.m. at a nightclub in west Durham

As of Wednesday morning, police had not announced any arrests or suspects in the cases.

Gun violence in the city is trending down for the year. There were 28 homicides in Durham as of Sept. 10, down from 35 by that date last year, according to police statistics. The city averaged 36 homicides by that date over the past five years.

How ShotSpotter works

ShotSpotter’s methodically placed sensors detect the sounds of likely gunshots and help police pinpoint their location.

The devices are light gray in color and fairly small, about 9 inches on either side and 4 inches thick, according to technical specifications obtained in a public records request. They weigh just over 3 pounds and communicate on cell networks, but must be connected to electricity to do so.

When the devices are triggered, audio of the incident is sent to ShotSpotter’s “Incident Review Center,” where a person listens to confirm gunfire or explosions, then alerts Durham’s 911 dispatchers and police.

Local authorities get a dot on the map and the closest address, plus notification if the weapon was fully automatic or high capacity. An app for police provides immediate access to audio files and other data.

Durham Police Chief Patrice Andrews said a typical alert would be treated as a “priority 2” call.

“Along the lines of a house alarm,” she explained. “Officers are not swarming into the area.”

Officers will check for injured people and legally search for evidence, Andrews said, leaving door hangers instead of walking into folks’ backyards.

ShotSpotter later provides detailed forensic reports, which police can use to obtain search warrants and investigate officer-involved shootings, the contract states.

Attorneys can reference the forensic reports in court, but a ShotSpotter representative serving as an expert witness will cost $350 an hour plus travel expenses.

What does ShotSpotter do with its data?

The company has the right to sell any of the data it collects to third parties for research, analytical or security purposes, the contract states.

However, the company says it will “vigorously resist” subpoenas and court orders for extended audio beyond one second before a gunshot, the gunshots themselves, and one second after.

The contract also states the company will not provide a database of the precise locations of sensors to police or the public and would challenge subpoenas to do so, though emails obtained by The N&O show the company asked for help getting permission for 19 sites of the 60 to 75 they plan to install.

The names and descriptions of the sites were redacted aside from that of Durham Public Schools Superintendent Pascal Mubenga.

What happens on July 4?

ShotSpotter commits to detecting and locating 90% of unsupressed outdoor gunfire when the weapon is using standard rounds above .25 caliber. They also commit to reviewing and publishing alerts in less than 60 seconds 90% of the time.

That excludes holidays when fireworks are widely used, specifically in the 48 hours surrounding New Year’s Eve and July 4.

Jason Scheiss, analytical services manager for the Durham Police Department, said they will be tracking gunfire in the treatment area to compare to previous years and other regions of the city.

“At the end of the day, that would be the ultimate public safety outcome: a reduction in violent crime,” Scheiss said.

Scheiss said said the Wilson Center for Science and Justice at Duke Law is providing an external review of the pilot.

“The ultimate determination of the efficacy and usefulness of this tool rests at this dais. I’m not outsourcing the decision to the Police Department,” Middleton stressed in a City Council meeting.

© 2022 Raleigh News & Observer. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.