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"Playing games": Detroit City Council again delays vote on ShotSpotter expansion

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Detroit City Council has once again delayed a vote on expanding the controversial ShotSpotter gunshot detection technology throughout the city.

Councilmembers voted 6-3 to approve the funding to renew the $1.5 million contract in the two precincts where the system is already in place. They chose to delay the vote on the $7 million expansion contract for the second week in a row.

Councilmembers Gabriela Santiago-Romero, Angela Whitfield-Calloway and Mary Waters voted against both contracts.

Councilmember Coleman Young II delaying the vote and tabling the issue for another week wasted people's time.

"Fathers have buried their sons, and mothers have buried their daughters, and infants have shed blood on the street. For us to have this motion, for us to not even vote on it today, that’s what I’m saying is playing games. That’s what I think is wrong," Young said.

The Detroit Police Department's request to expand the technology would use $7 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funding. Opponents say that this money should only be used for pandemic-related economic recovery.

Some members of city council requested that Mayor Mike Duggan's office and the Detroit Police Department look at getting money for ShotSpotter expansion from other sources.

More than 90 people signed up to give public comment during Tuesday's City Council session, according to Council President Mary Sheffield. Most spoke against the gunshot detection technology.

Activists and residents were wary of the potential for increased police surveillance and said that ShotSpotter has not provided enough data to prove that the technology is effective at reducing crime.

In a statement to Michigan Radio, ShotSpotter Senior Vice President Sam Klepper said the system correctly detects gunfire incidents with 97% accuracy, "enabling a fast, precise police response." Klepper said the company has 125 cities using its technology, with a 98% renewal rate.

Earlier this month, the Detroit Police Department said since March 2021, ShotSpotter detected more than 25,000 shots fired. DPD said that led to more than 100 arrests and taking 300 guns off the street.

Detroit Police Chief James White defended the proposal to expand the system at a packed town hall meeting last week.

Supporters of expanding ShotSpotter in Detroit talked at Tuesday's meeting about how the technology could allow the police to respond more quickly to gun crimes and would make them feel safer.

Many of the people who spoke at the meeting said the money should be used for preventive tools or the support of community organizations working to stop violence and provide resources in Detroit.

"I don't believe in this false narrative that it has to be a situation where we support either social services or policing tools. We can do and I believe have to do both," said Councilmember and President Pro Tem James Tate.

"I told them several times you got to stop saying this is a preventive tool because I don't see the prevention aspect of it. But what I do see is how it is being used for investigations afterwards. That cannot just be thrown out as if it doesn't matter," Tate said.

Many commenters at Tuesday's meeting suggested that the $7 million be used for hiring police officers rather than expanding the ShotSpotter technology.

In early September, the Detroit Police Department said it has already shed 200 officers this year — twice as many as in all of 2021. The DPD budget allows for at least 200 more officers than are currently working for the department.

A group of local organizations including We The People of Michigan, Michigan Liberation, Detroit Action, Detroit Justice Center and the ACLU of Michigan wrote a letter arguing against the technology. Those organizations also had representatives speak during public comment.

"We should be clear about what ShotSpotter does: The technology sends police, falsely expecting a shootout, into the Black, brown, and poor communities where microphones are secretly embedded," the letter stated in part. "Instead of preventing gun violence, ShotSpotter tech profits from it. Its entire business model is based on continuing violence and expansion."

The Detroit City Council delayed the vote until October 4.

Briana Rice is Michigan Public's criminal justice reporter. She's focused on what Detroiters need to feel safe and whether they're getting it.
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