A year after the Fayetteville City Council voted to approve funding for the controversial gunshot technology known as ShotSpotter, Fayetteville Police Chief Kemberle Braden said the technology — deployed on Sept. 28 — has allowed officers to arrive at gunshot scenes faster and with greater accuracy than 911 calls.
Still, Braden is cautious about drawing conclusions on the technology’s long-term effectiveness. The city’s one-year contract with ShotSpotter cost nearly $200,000, a significant expense that he said warrants careful evaluation.
“I was skeptical of ShotSpotter, and I still am,” Braden said at a Community Police Advisory Board Meeting last Wednesday. “There are certain questions that I want to see (answered), certain validations I want to see as the chief of police to justify the money we're spending on this program.”
The gunshot detection technology triangulates data from acoustic wave sensors to determine the precise location of gunshots, number of rounds fired and how many weapons were used in an exchange.
As part of the trial period, ShotSpotter is being used in a one-square-mile radius in three separate neighborhoods: along a portion of the Murchison Road corridor, in the Massey Hill area and a section of west Fayetteville, Cliffdale and South Reilly Roads. The locations were chosen based on shots-fired service calls and other gun violence metrics. Braden said that, so far, the ShotSpotter data aligns with the above-average gunfire in those neighborhoods.
City council’s decision to move ahead with ShotSpotter has drawn criticism from local activists, who argue that it will increase negative interactions between police and Black and brown people living in high-crime neighborhoods. Critics have also condemned the program’s high-cost burden on taxpayers, as well as serious issues with the program that have caused some major cities, such as Seattle, to renege on their contracts.
Most recently, local activists criticized its use in a recent incident that ultimately led to a Black man shooting himself while in-custody of Fayetteville police.
Braden said the program has been a “great success” in the few weeks it’s been active. In two recent homicides, he said the technology has been able to validate detectives’ hypotheses with coordinates that match up with the accounts of victims and witnesses.
He said the program has been highly accurate in detecting gunshots, often pinpointing locations within a few feet. He said this allows the police to determine where to allocate resources.
“It has sent us to spots where we went and we found the shell casings right there, the victim was lying right there,” Braden said.
According to initial ShotSpotter data, in 90% of shots-fired incidents, there is no corresponding 911 call to inform the police. Preliminary data revealed at the Community Police Advisory Board meeting showed the technology has alerted police to 97 incidents of gunfire, including 328 rounds fired.
Police have been gathering data to analyze the effectiveness of the program, which will be publicly available with a ShotSpotter dashboard that will go live soon, Braden said. The police chief did not specify the exact date when the dashboard will become live.
The dashboard includes statistics directly from ShotSpotter, such as notifications of shots fired and count of rounds fired, but also implements data collected and analyzed by the police, such as shell casings, gunshot victims, recovered guns and arrests associated with ShotSpotter’s detection. It will initially be updated on a weekly basis.
Braden stressed the need to continue evaluating ShotSpotter’s effectiveness and monitoring its practical uses.
“I want to see that it truly lives up to the test of time,” he said.
Contact Evey Weisblat at firstname.lastname@example.org or 216-527-3608.