ShotSpotter tech nixed from Seattle budget despite mayor’s push

Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell’s budget proposal for 2023-24 included room for the gunshot detection technology ShotSpotter, but the city council’s official budget package, authored by Budget Committee Chair Teresa Mosqueda, did not include it.

Harrell has been advocating for the city to adopt this program for years, even dating back to his time as a city councilmember. ShotSpotter’s CEO and Department Director both donated to Harrell during his 2013 and 2021 mayoral campaigns.

ShotSpotter is a technology that alerts police to a shooting before anyone calls it in, leading to quicker arrests.

“It triangulates the signal, and it distinguishes a firecracker or a car engine from the distinct sound of gunfire,” Harrell said at a press conference last month, referencing the ShotSpotter network of microphones that would be installed on city rooftops and utility poles. “Cities across the country have used this as an evidence-gathering tool, not a violence prevention tool, and it’s been effective.”

Harrell’s original plan for the city budget was to allocate $1 million to a gunfire detection system for specific neighborhoods.

According to ShotSpotter’s website, this technology increases shots fired reports from 12% to 90%, decreases time to dispatch from 4.5 minutes to less than 60 seconds, and shrinks a crime scene radius from 780 feet to approximately 82 feet.

89% of shell casings have been found with ShotSpotter, compared to just 50% normally, while transport time for victims decreases by a third, according to the company’s data.

But not everyone has been convinced by ShotSpotter’s results. On Wednesday, the Atlanta Police Department turned down the gunshot detection services after receiving a six-month free trial, according to 11Alive News.

The department has yet to release any data from the trial period.

Earlier this year, Chicago police arrested Michael Williams, 65, for allegedly killing a young man who needed a ride, using ShotSpotter technology. He was arrested on evidence discovered by ShotSpotter through a security video where his car drove through an intersection, followed by a loud noise.

Williams was in jail for nearly a year before a judge dismissed the case last month, according to the Associated Press (AP).

This led AP to investigate ShotSpotter’s technology, discovering the system can miss live gunfire under its microphones or misclassify the sounds of fireworks or cars backfiring as gunshots. AP even argued the ShotSpotter employee-created forensic reports had been used in court to claim a defendant shot at police improperly.

ShotSpotter lists 130 cities that use its services, but recently San Antonio and Charlotte joined Atlanta as cities that have stopped using the technology amid questions about its effectiveness.

“Say no to ShotSpotter, which doesn’t save lives or prevent gun violence,” a woman said during the public comment section of a Seattle City Council meeting earlier this month. “It only leads to more cops in BIPOC communities and wrongful convictions.”

“Fortunately, there is another option. It’s called defunding the police,” said Peter Condit at the public comment. “Its theory of change is strong, but defunding the police only works for everyone if you actually do it. Otherwise, it’s the same failed law-and-order strategy. So abrogate cops that don’t exist. No ghost cops, move that $17 million out of SPD, defund sweeps, reject ShotSpotter, and build solutions recommended in the solidarity budget.”

But other local groups, including the African American Community Advisory Council (AACAC), have endorsed and supported this program. The AACAC was created in 1996 as one of ten councils to work alongside the Seattle Police Department (SPD).

“I attended two meetings that were put on by the African American Community Council,” said Nancy Gratton, stating she attends meetings that could have an answer to the gun violence. “This ShotSpotter was amazing. 911 response times in the South Precinct are 11 minutes for priority calls. With ShotSpotter, it’s able to almost immediately alert officers on patrol to the exact location of gunfire, and officers are also able to respond quickly enough to save a victim from bleeding out. You have got to do something to stop the violence. Do something, try something, our kids are dying.”

The budget is not yet finalized until council members vote Nov. 29.