ShotSpotter is a gun detection system that has been installed in Detroit to help lower crime and violence in the city. Recently the City of Detroit announced it wants to spend $7 million to expand the program using funds from the American Rescue Plan Act.
Bryce Huffman, reporter for Bridge Detroit, says the program rolled out in March 2021 in the city’s 8th and 9th precincts — the far west side, and the far east side — in a 6-square-mile radius. Detroit’s City Council initially passed a contract for $1.5 million in November 2020
“It uses microphones and sensors to pick up the sounds of gunfire and then in real time, give that data to analysts who then give that data to the police … for the police to respond to shootings faster, and hopefully … solve crimes faster,” says Huffman.
Huffman says many Detroiters do not know about the program or how it works.
“The big pro that I have seen is that allows the police to respond to shootings faster, especially in neighborhoods where people might not be super likely to call the police to report a shooting,” Huffman says.
“It’s an expensive Band-Aid over the symptom, but it doesn’t actually get to the root cause.” —Bryce Huffman, Bridge Detroit
He says one of the cons is civil liberties implications in historically Black neighborhoods.
“They come to a neighborhood in our city, these are two majority-Black neighborhoods … expecting a situation that involves a gun … coming in on high alert to communities that already sort of have this reputation for being dangerous. So it could potentially give really bad outcomes with those factors,” he says.
Huffman says one of the criticisms is that there isn’t a way to hold the privately owned companies responsible for errors or false alarms. Although 76 arrests have been made, it hasn’t been determined if there were criminal convictions from the arrests, nor does it address the underlying issues that cause gun violence.
“It’s an expensive Band-Aid over the symptom, but it doesn’t actually get to the root cause, he says.
The City of Detroit has not shared plans of how the program will expand using the $7 million ARPA funds. He says people can find out more about ShotSpotter by attending Board of Police Commissioners meetings.
This story was a collaboration with the Detroit Documenters program using notes from Kayleigh Lickliter, Bridge Detroit and WDET. Tune in for an upcoming episode of Tracked and Traced podcast featuring Bryce Huffman’s reporting on ShotSpotter.