Dayton not renewing contract with ShotSpotter program

The Dayton Police Department says it will not renew its contract for a controversial gunshot-detection technology when it expires at the end of the year.

The city’s current ShotSpotter system would cost nearly $615,000 to operate for another three years, and it would be difficult to show how effective the technology, on its own, has been at reducing crime, says a statement from the Dayton Police Department.

“Based on the analysis of the ShotSpotter data, considering community response, changes in state law, budget, officer response and other factors, it has been decided that the city of Dayton and the Dayton Police Department will not renew the ShotSpotter contract in 2023,” police said in a statement.

Credit: Marshall Gorby

Credit: Marshall Gorby

A local group called the Coalition on Public Protection said independent research and data from Dayton’s system found the technology was ineffective at reducing gun violence.

“We also appreciate the city’s consideration of the hundreds of community members that publicly opposed ShotSpotter (a couple years ago) when they made this decision today,” the coalition said in a statement.

Dayton police launched a ShotSpotter system in late 2019 that covers a three-square-mile area in northwest Dayton, police said.

The city originally approved spending $205,000 for ShotSpotter’s services in July 2019.

In November 2020, the city approved extending the contract for two more years, at a cost of $390,000.

That contract runs through the end of this year.

The system uses a network of acoustic sensors to identify potential sounds of gunfire and then alert police dispatchers and officers of their locations.

Police officials have said the technology can help develop leads, catch criminals, solve crimes and locate forensic evidence.

Dayton police said ShotSpotter helped locate shooting victims, identify crimes in progress and led to about 56 firearms being removed from the streets.

Dayton’s ShotSpotter system issued more than 1,375 alerts in 2021 and more than 1,860 in 2020.

Police said the system helped officers recover more than 3,900 bullet casings, and the alerts led to about 74 arrests for criminal incidents.

But critics say they have not seen persuasive evidence that the technology really helps reduce crime or that its benefits outweigh its costs.

Some community members also raised concerns about false alarms.

They said they worry that officers are dispatched to areas on high alert, suspecting gunfire, even though they do not have a description of a suspect or don’t know for sure if the sound was really gunfire or in actuality another type of loud noise.

About 370 people signed an online petition in November 2020 asking the city to reject extending its ShotSpotter contract.

Binita Patel, a member of the Coalition on Public Protection, told this newspaper she did research this past summer on ShotSpotter in Dayton and she identified two main concerns about use of the technology: data accuracy and privacy.

“I learned that ShotSpotter alerts had misclassified the sound of fireworks as a gunshot, raising concerns about the accuracy of the alerts and the waste of police resources spent investigating those alerts,” said Patel, who is a fellow at the University of Dayton’s Human Rights Center and studies at UD’s School of Law.

Also, she said, the technology has the potential to be abused because it records audio via microphones placed in the coverage area.

She said she was “ecstatic” to find out Dayton police will not renew the contract for the system.

“It is great to see that DPD does take into consideration the community’s concerns when making decisions on the implementation of new technology and its expansion,” she said.

Dayton police said the area covered by ShotSpotter saw a larger decrease in violent crime than a similar “control area” that lacked the technology.

But police said this cannot be solely attributed to ShotSpotter since various law enforcement tools were deployed in the area during the same time frame.

Changes in state law were another consideration.

A new law went into effect this year that allows Ohioans to carry firearms without a concealed carry permit. Dayton police often have confiscated weapons because people did not have permits.

Police also noted that discharging a firearm within city limits is legal unless certain conditions exist.

The Dayton Police Department is required under a city ordinance to explain and justify its use of police surveillance technologies before they are implemented and produce annual reports about the use of approve technologies.

Dayton police said hopefully officers who are assigned to beats in all areas of the city will build good relationships with residents that will help combat and solve violent crimes.

Julio Mateo, who also is a member of the coalition, said ShotSpotter data in Dayton showed that most of the system’s alerts resulted in “dead-end deployments” that waste valuable public resources and have the potential to endanger community members.

“When considering all the evidence, I believe it is clear that the risks and costs of ShotSpotter greatly outweigh any potential benefit the technology may provide,” he said.

ShotSpotter said the company is trusted by police departments in more than 135 cities across the nation and it has a 99% customer retention rate.

Dayton police’s announcement does not negate ShotSpotter’s effectiveness, and the city’s data showed the covered area saw a reduction in violent crime, the company said.

“By itself, ShotSpotter is not a cure-all, but studies have shown it’s a critical part of a comprehensive gun crime response strategy that saves lives, improves evidence collection, and builds community trust,” the company said.

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