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‘I don't think it's for Fayetteville'

Residents speak out against ShotSpotter technology, saying money could go elsewhere


Residents who oppose the ShotSpotter gunshot detection technology appeared before the Fayetteville City Council on Monday night to let their voices be heard during the council’s last regular meeting of the year.

 They came to let their opinions be known days after the city held three community meetings — two in person and one virtually — on the controversial gunshot technology that is scheduled to be used by the Police Department.

 City Manager Doug Hewett said about 150 people participated in the three forums, which were held Dec. 7-9.

 “There were a lot of questions for which ShotSpotter has agreed that they will provide answers to, and once we receive those answers, we, of course, will publish that information,’’ Hewett said. “In addition to those questions and the information that was shared, we know that several council members also had the opportunity to attend, and I think the consensus from what I heard from some of the council members moving forward is, we will update the community and council, of course, on a quarterly basis on the use of ShotSpotter.

 “We will also be tracking to see whether or not ShotSpotter helps us with our response to — time and response situation," Hewett said. "We’ll also be tracking and recording out, as appropriate, the number of complaints that may arise from the use of ShotSpotter, if any exist. We also will be, of course, be continuing to provide council information on any ... other crime reduction strategies that we have.”

 Based on the feedback he received from the staff, Hewett said the meetings were well attended with a lot of good dialogue. 

Mayor Mitch Colvin attended the second meeting that was held at the Kiwanis Recreation Center.

“Very intense. Very passionate discussions,” he said. “There were a couple of citizens who wanted to know if this technology actually improved the response time. Would it be beneficial in that respect. Also, there were concerns about whether this was set up conditions to set up possible confrontation between the citizens and the police. So, tracking citizens’ complaints, there are metrics we can use to see if there’s a correlation between that. Also, overall crime reduction. I think the citizens spoke loud and clear this last election about public safety being an issue.”

On Monday, the mayor noted there had been three fatal shootings over the weekend.

“Everybody has the same goal,” Colvin said Monday. “Which is to create a safer city, community. Sometimes we agree or disagree how we get there, but I think the City Council, regardless of which side of this issue (you are on), we all want a better and safer community to live. As we work through this, I told the citizens I did speak to I’ll bring that information back to share with council.  And use metrics to share those concerns where possible or feasible.”

The City Council voted 6-4 last month to proceed with implementing the gunshot-reporting technology, with the stipulation that ShotSpotter representatives hold three public forums to answer questions about how it works.

The council authorized the city manager to pursue a contract with ShotSpotter after the forums are held and with some contract modifications.

Law enforcement agencies across the country have implemented technology to help reduce gun violence. One of those tools is an acoustic gunshot detection system that can verify when and where shots are fired and to automatically notify police dispatchers.

On its website, ShotSpotter says it uses an array of acoustic sensors that are connected to a cloud-based application designed to accurately locate gunshots. Each acoustic sensor captures the precise time and audio from sounds that may be from gunfire. The data is used to locate where the noise originated and uses algorithms to determine if the source might be a gunshot.

Councilman D.J. Haire said he attended the meeting at the Kiwanis Recreation Center and spoke with residents outside.

“A lot of folk were glad that it would be on a trial basis just to see how this tool can help with crime prevention,” he said. “It was an opportunity to hear from the citizens and look to see us going forward.”

The council heard from residents on the issue during the public forum portion of Monday’s meeting.

Of the 15 residents who signed up to speak, the majority were scheduled to discuss the “shots fired” technology.

Angela Tatum Malloy told the council that she had a lot to say regarding ShotSpotter, thinking that the council was genuinely interested in hearing from citizens. “Giving them an opportunity to be heard so that there could be a reconsideration of the signing of this contract (with ShotSpotter).

“But as our city manager alluded in his comments earlier,” Malloy said, “it’s already decided that when it’s signed our concerns will be taken into account. What I find frustrating is that the mayor and others — but especially the mayor because he stayed afterward (at Kiwanis) hearing from the citizens — you allow the citizens to feel like there’s a chance or opportunity for this to be reconsidered.

“I asked you over and over again to state in front of everyone that this has already been decided," she said. "We’re just hearing you. It’s just a checkbox hearing from you but we’ve already decided to move forward.”

Malloy said she didn’t understand why the council didn’t hold the forums before the vote.

“I’m not understanding why that didn’t take place,’’ she said. “There were plenty of forums to get citizens to vote on the referendums that you wanted to be supported or not supported. So, why the same energy not put toward this?”

Community forums, she said, are a waste of time. “The decisions are already made,” she added. “Community forums are always just check boxes. And that’s what needs to be told to the community.”

“I have not known a project or program that has been funded $200,000 to have as many flaws as has been shown and proven as ShotSpotter,” Malloy said. “We’ll have to move on to something else.”

That was followed by applause from the audience.

Jose Cardona, a regular presence at city-held meetings, said he attended Monday’s meeting on behalf of the Fayetteville Police Department. He called police officers and firefighters his heroes.

“If you are going to go forward with this shots fired item,” he said, “I request in front of the City Council and for the new police officers to have three police officers every time they are called out on a shot-fire accident. I do not want to be in front of you the next time I see you to say that a police officer has been killed because this thing went wrong. Please, listen to my voice.”

Community activist Shaun McMillan also addressed the council.

“Cancel ShotSpotter!” he urged.

“Take the $200,000 that you plan on wasting,” he said, “you can put that back in the socio-economic programs for the black and brown folks who live in the three-mile radius you plan on over policing.”

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ShotSpotter uses sensors strategically placed in a three- to five-square-mile radius to detect and map out gunshots.

McMillan then reeled off data that he said ShotSpotter’s representatives missed “in their canned sales pitch. One out of every five people in Fayetteville live in poverty,” he said. “A property rate of 19.1% is around 66% higher than the national average. Mass incarceration and over-policing further destroy our communities.

“Our people don’t need to be over-policed,” McMillan said. “Cancel ShotSpotter and put our taxpayer dollars to use finding solid upstream solutions.”

Lee Sadler said he was unaware of the ShotSpotter program until a couple of weeks ago.

“It’s not that I don’t keep up with city politics, but I kind of rely on you people and your expertise to step up,” Sadler said.

He told council members he wanted to see one of them make a motion, which would be seconded, for “the postponement or reconsideration to extend debate on the ShotSpotter program. And for further discussion, rescind or amend your current vote unless you have already taken that vote. Personally, I think that $200,000 could be better spent. I don’t know what police recruitment is like right now in the city, but I do know that $200,000 perhaps would be better served by hiring four or five police officers — whatever the salary range is — to supervise and control that same three-mile radius without shots fired.”

Cynthia Leeks told the council it was taking her tax dollars and spending it “on something you decided to do.”

“We did not get an opportunity to voice our opinion about it,” she said. “I wouldn't have paid for it if I had the money in my pocket the way it came across to me.”

She said she had spoken with one of the city’s 911 operators.

“The folks who represent that company (the Fremont, California-based ShotSpotteer) say that when you hear a shot, in 60 seconds the Police Department will get the call. The 911 operator tells me that already happens. It kind of surprised me why are we spending this kind of money … I say we flip a couple of houses and put some police officers in our communities.”

Leeks, too, asked the council to extend the debate on the technology.

“I think it will marginalize my community. I live in the heart of the city. I hear shots sometimes, too," she said.

“I don’t think it’s for Fayetteville,” she said. “I implore that you please let us come before you again.”

Jeannette Henderson said she did not support the technology for Fayetteville and, instead, said the city should invest in other solutions when it comes to public safety.

“I do think we need to reconsider and take the comments and consideration from the general community,” she said. “We really want to have this discussion with ya'll.”

On Wednesday, Hewett said plans now call for him to go ahead and sign the contract with ShotSpotter to get the program underway.

"We met the requirements council set forth," he said. "I'll sign when it's cleared and the contract comes up from the purchasing shop. I don't know when that will be."

He anticipates that the ShotSpotter program will be mobilized and started at the first of the new year.

"There's a lot of work to be done," Hewett said. "We'll identify the location and map where we'll put the sensors in. The heavy lift will begin in early 2023."

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

Fayetteville, City Council, ShotSpotter