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City Council split on implementing gunshot-detecting technology

Some members want more information on how well it works


The Fayetteville City Council remains divided on whether a high-tech gunshot detection system is a good investment to improve public safety.

On Monday night, the council was deadlocked 5-5 on a motion to provide staff members with definitive direction on a $200,000 contract with ShotSpotter to employ the technology.

Council members Derrick Thompson, Kathy Jensen, D.J. Haire and Johnny Dawkins joined Mayor Mitch Colvin to vote in favor of the motion. Those opposed were Deno Hondros, Mario Benavente, Shakeyla Ingram, Brenda McNair and Courtney Banks-McLaughlin.

Before that motion failed, Benavente had moved to refer the issue to a council work session for further discussion. That motion failed on a 6-4 vote.

Voting for that motion were Thompson, Jensen, Haire, Dawkins and Colvin. Voting no were Hondros, Benavente, Ingram, McNair and Banks-McLaughlin.

Debate on adopting the technology has continued for roughly 18 months. The council voted in favor of it on Aug. 22.

But Hondros later said he was reconsidering his vote in favor of signing a contract with ShotSpotter. He said newly elected council members were not provided the same information about the service that the previous council received.

Benavente, too, said he wants more information.

“To my fellow members of council, I think we’re all under a lot of pressure to do something important and worthwhile as a way of improving public safety,” Benavente said. “I think that direction should be investing in our communities, not necessarily investing in private corporations. So, I think that it’s important … to answer what Chief (Gina) Hawkins could not answer before: What are the potential negatives to this technology?

“I emailed Chief Hawkins to see if she would clarify even outside that meeting. I’ve yet to receive a response,” Benavente said. “And the reason why this question is so important is because if we implement this contract — if we sign on the dotted line — we inherit all the liability. We learn that in the contract it says specifically that ShotSpotter Corp. waives all liability. We’ve seen in other communities that it has resulted in lawsuits.

“I’m not interested in us looking at different technologies like this — one-size-fits-all fashion,” he continued. “If we want to make this work in Fayetteville, let’s learn from the mistakes that other municipalities have gone through.”

From what he has learned, Benavente said, 911 calls from areas where gunshots have been fired work better than the 21st-century "shots-fired" technology. He said council members have heard only the pro arguments from representatives of ShotSpotter.

Council members who were newly elected in July met with two representatives of the company. 

After Monday’s meeting, Colvin said the issue “has to come back before the council, and probably at the next scheduled meeting in October.”

On Aug. 22, the council voted 8-2 to spend nearly $200,000 a year on a contract with ShotSpotter, a high-tech gunshot detection system that is intended to determine where and when gunshots have been fired and help law enforcement officials dispatch response teams more effectively.

On that vote, council members Benavente and Ingram opposed the agreement.

Law enforcement agencies across the country have implemented various technological tools to help reduce gun violence. One of those tools is the acoustic gunshot detection system, which is intended to detect, verify and automatically notify police dispatchers and officers when shots are detected.

Earlier Monday, during the council’s dinner meeting, Ingram said she agrees that ShotSpotter should be discussed further before the City Council makes a decision.

Colvin noted that Durham has recently implemented ShotSpotter, as have other N.C. cities.

Michael Futch covers Fayetteville and education for CityView. He can be reached at mfutch@cityviewnc.com.

Faytteville, City Council, crime, police, ShotSpotter