from the but-that's-the-thing-it-says-it's-good-at-[confused-noises] dept
Gunshot detection tech provider ShotSpotter is fighting a PR battle on multiple fronts after more news surfaced that its analysts may alter detection records to fit police narratives and investigators’ theories. Communications and court documents obtained by the Associated Press confirmed ShotSpotter allows law enforcement officers to request modifications to detection records. And the company apparently used to allow police officers to modify the data themselves.
In addition to its questionable handling of evidence, ShotSpotter is also shedding customers. Law enforcement agencies in some cities have decided it’s not worth paying for a product that can’t reliably detect gunshots. Cities that have dumped ShotSpotter have reported false positive rates as high as 75%.
ShotSpotter has fired back, claiming everyone reporting on its tech is wrong about its tech. It also claims it doesn’t alter or allow alteration to reports submitted as evidence in criminal cases. Its assertions ring pretty fucking hollow in the face of all of this reporting, which relies on documents filed in court or obtained through public records requests. ShotSpotter’s claims, however, are supported by nothing more than the company’s own ineffective anger.
Now, there’s even more evidence showing ShotSpotter isn’t worth paying for. The Chicago PD’s Inspector General has concluded its investigation of the tech the city pays roughly $11 million/year for. And it has found the tech doesn’t seem to be worth the money.
The City of Chicago Office of Inspector General’s (OIG) Public Safety section has issued a report on the Chicago Police Department’s (CPD) use of ShotSpotter acoustic gunshot detection technology and CPD’s response to ShotSpotter alert notifications. OIG concluded from its analysis that CPD responses to ShotSpotter alerts can seldom be shown to lead to investigatory stops which might have investigative value and rarely produce evidence of a gun-related crime.
The CPD data examined by OIG does not support a conclusion that ShotSpotter is an effective tool in developing evidence of gun-related crime.
That’s pretty damning. Compare and contrast with ShotSpotter’s own irate statements in defense of its product:
[T]he ShotSpotter system is highly accurate at detecting outdoor gunshots and benefits communities battling gun violence.
Well, there’s plenty of evidence out there saying the system isn’t accurate. And this report [PDF] by the Chicago PD’s oversight contradicts the second part of the company’s claim. It isn’t benefiting “communities battling gun violence.” According to this investigation, only the rarest spotted shot leads to anything that might battle gun violence.
And, according to this investigation, the installation of the tech is actually causing more problems for areas of Chicago where gun violence is already an issue. ShotSpotter has given Chicago police officers yet another excuse to engage in suspicionless stops and searches. This is from the report:
In reviewing ISR [investigative stop report] narratives for mentions of ShotSpotter alerts, OIG also identified 10 ISRs (13.9%) in which reporting officers referred to the aggregate results of the ShotSpotter system as informing their decision to initiate a stop or their course of action during the stop, even when they were not responding to a specific ShotSpotter alert. For example, some officers during the reporting period identified the fact of being in an area known to have frequent ShotSpotter alerts as an element of the reasonable suspicion required to justify the stop. Other officers reported conducting “protective pat downs” following a stop because they knew themselves to be in areas where ShotSpotter alerts were frequent.
If there’s a silver lining for ShotSpotter in this report, it’s one that only benefits the tech provider, rather than Chicago residents. The Inspector General says it’s possible there are more investigations linked to ShotSpotter detections, but it can’t really tell because the Chicago PD’s recordkeeping is a mess. What the IG sees is almost no connection between ShotSpotter reports and gun-crime investigations. But there’s a slim chance this may be the PD’s fault.
If this result is attributable in part to missing or nonmatched records of investigatory stops that did take place as a direct consequence of a ShotSpotter alert, CPD’s record-keeping practices are obstructing a meaningful analysis of the effectiveness of the technology.
And, if that’s part of the problem, then that’s on the Chicago PD if the city decides to stop paying $11 million a year for nothing more than additional rights violations by police officers.