Durham pilots controversial gunshot detection tech ShotSpotter, community members express concerns

Community members were happy to reach out to Pastor Jerry Christian of Russell Memorial CME Church to express concerns about the implementation of ShotSpotter’s racial profiling. Soon, Christian, seminary ’22, found himself echoing the same fears at a community forum in September.

ShotSpotter is an artificial intelligence technology that will be placed in Durham neighborhoods with high rates of gun violence, where the majority of residents are people of color. The technology uses acoustic sensors and artificial intelligence to identify gunshots and send the location of the shot to law enforcement officers.

In April, ShotSpotter formed a partnership with the Durham Police Department to build a network of sensors in a 3-square-mile neighborhood with an all-time high rate of gun violence. A trial run is expected to begin on November 1. 15, which will last a year and will cost the city nearly $200,000.

But Christian worries that racial profiling will become a more common problem if more people receive more police calls in areas where ShotSpotter sensors are used, leading to increased police presence.

He worries that his 16-year-old, black, 6-foot-tall son might be caught in the wrong place at the wrong time and mistaken for a suspect.

To address these concerns, McDouglas Terrace community members and Durham Police representatives held a community forum on September 9 at Burton Elementary School. 26th Discussion on establishing ShotSpotter in Durham.

According to police representatives on the forum, the goal of the technology is to alert officers to move to the exact spot where the gunshots are heard, in order to shorten their response time.

With ShotSpotter, loud sounds are reflected visually on the graph to distinguish gunshots from noises like jackhammers or fireworks. Additionally, alarms are verified by personnel trained to recognize gunshots. The technology also allows police to see the number of bullets fired and the location of each shot to determine if the shooter can move.

“Our number one goal is public health,” Jason Schiess, manager of analytical services at Durham Police, told the Chronicle. “If we could get this information faster and be more precise in terms of location accuracy, that would increase our likelihood of finding people who need medical care, especially urgent medical care.”

The tool also has the potential to gather evidence faster and reduce gun violence, Schiess said. The three-square-mile area east and southeast of Durham was chosen because it only accounts for 2.7 percent of the city’s total land area, yet is where one-third of all gunshot wounds occur.

According to Ron Teachman, director of public safety solutions at ShotSpotter, 80 percent of shootings across the country are currently not reported to police. Durham Police hopes to reduce that rate by having the sensors make calls.

Christian believes the technology helps support the community as he recognizes how devastating gun violence can be to local families. However, he stressed that a caring relationship between police and community members is necessary for the project to function.

“[My son] Just want to be in a place where you don’t have to worry about gun violence and don’t worry about calling your friends next week… [then hearing] Your friend is gone,” Christian said. “Even though we live in a wonderful community and a wonderful family, we are still not immune to the violence that occurs in our community. “

Tichman said the tool would not exacerbate racial disparities in arrests. He noted that young black men are the ethnic group with the largest number of shooting victims in the country, and said ShotSpotter will help gather data that will help with research on how to address the issue.

Another concern raised at the meeting was that the Durham Public Schools Board voted on Sept. 9 against placing sensors on six school campuses. twenty two.

DPS board chair Bettina Umstead said the board decided that ShotSpotter would not necessarily help with student safety, especially since the role of schools is to focus on preventive measures. Umstead said DPS’ top priority is to provide a support system for students’ social and emotional needs.

“I really think addressing violence has to be a community effort,” Umstead told the Chronicle. “I think we have to come together and think creatively about the ways we’re going to support and prevent violence and figure out how we can heal many of our communities.”

Teachman clarified that while DPS has refused to place sensors in school buildings, the schools that ShotSpotter proposes as potential locations are in neighborhoods where sensors are already installed.

ShotSpotter Director of Community Engagement Paul John addresses privacy concerns about the technology. He explained that ShotSpotter was consulted by NYU Law School and ultimately received positive feedback about the technology’s protection of personal privacy.

“We’re not sending the police anything, but a clip of the gunshots captured a second before the shooting,” John said. “So we’ve taken significant steps to protect privacy. We’re very confident… We don’t violate privacy by capturing conversations or anything of that nature.”

Christian and Umstead say tackling gun violence in Durham is necessary, especially when the impact can be so catastrophic, so long as careful steps are taken along the way.

“When one person experiences violence, all of us are affected,” Christian said. “So it was a painful experience, especially for teens and children. But it was also a painful experience for the community.”

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