Residents Push Back on Agency Shotspotter Contract Renewal
On March 16th, 2017, the City of Dayton Human Relations Council (HRC), The Dayton Police Department (DPD) and the Dayton Community Police Council (CPC) held a community listening session to hear the hopes, fears and concerns of residents with regard to community policing. This particular session had an emphasis on young people considering that the meeting was held at the Boys and Girls Club. Plus, I, as the organizer of the event, had just left a job with the Urban League as a Youth Counselor. I reached out to my former colleagues and asked them to invite some of the youth that they were and I had previously worked with. As one would imagine, the strained relationship between law enforcement and the black community was hotly debated. However, so was the topic of public safety.
Joe Parlette was present and appropriately moved when he heard a young lady express that she was so used to the sound of gunshots that she no longer considered calling police when she heard them. It was a disheartening remark and for those of us who also lived on the Westside of Dayton knew exactly how she felt. Nonetheless, I was still surprised when Joe Parlette used this young lady’s remarks, in part, to justify spending an enormous amount of city money on a technology called ShotSpotter. I must admit that I did not vehemently object to the technology when it was first proposed, mostly because my role as a city employee was to facilitate conversation as opposed to expressing my own opinion. However, when I was asked my thoughts on how to address gun violence, I proposed an expansion of the community-based program that I was overseeing. But, higher ranking City officials, including City Manager Shelly Dickstein had made up their mind. They were going to spend the money needed to give ShotSpotter a chance, but not without getting community approval first.
Initially, DPD presented the idea at a quarterly dinner meeting with the City and neighborhood association presidents. At a forum not particularly designed for robust back and forth, DPD gave essentially the same marketing pitch to the presidents that ShotSpotter had gave to DPD months before. There was a little excitement expressed, but there was also no dissent. DPD took this as “overwhelming” community support for the technology. Later, DPD would make the same pitch to the CPC at a regularly scheduled meeting, however, this time the support was not so “overwhelming.” In fact, some members of the CPC fervently opposed the use of the technology. Nonetheless, when it was time for the City to approve the initial $205,000 needed for the technology in 2018, DPD went with the “overwhelming” support narrative and the Dayton City Commission approved the purchase.
ShotSpotter is a technology owned by a California based company. It was developed during wartime in the Middle East in the early 2000’s. The ShotSpotter program mounts sophisticated, highly sensitive microphones on people's homes and other city property. The microphones triangulate the sound of a gunshot and when a gunshot is detected the California company alerts the Dayton Police and officers are deployed to the location the sound came from. On the day before Thanksgiving, Wednesday, November 25th, DPD asked the Dayton City Commission to approve an additional $390,000 to continue the program for another two years. DPD stated that they have made 27 arrests, recovered 34 firearms, rendered aid to five gunshot victims and recovered 2000 shell casings as a result of the technology. Numbers that may seem compelling before one considers that ultimately there has not been a significant decrease in gun violence since the implantation of the program.
National reports indicate that ShotSpotter has an inconsistent record, at best and has been used for nefarious purposes. There is no empirical evidence to support the marketing claims made by ShotSpotter, especially claims of crime prevention or reduction. Many cities have either cancelled their contracts with ShotSpotter or else considered and rejected contracts with them, including; Nashville, TN, St. Paul, MN Sacramento, CA, Charlotte, NC, Fresno, CA and Toronto, Canada. The liabilities and opportunity costs of ShotSpotter are significant. Most importantly, over 360 Dayton residents have signed a petition opposing the approval of funding for ShotSpotter. Despite these pleas, the Dayton City Commission approved the funding with a 4-1 vote, Commissioner Fairchild being the sole no vote. The City, thus far has not even acknowledged any community disapproval of ShotSpotter.
The murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, along with a global pandemic have heightened awareness with regard to state violence and systemic racism in this Country. It is now well known that communities of colors have suffered from neglect and divestment for decades. Mayor Nan Whaley hosted an online video series that specifically outlined how these issues have impacted West Dayton, where the majority of Dayton’s black residents reside. Furthermore, it was recently reported that the City of Dayton was one of America’s poorest cities. It is in this environment that the City of Dayton Commission approved spending $595,000 on an unproven technology. Imagine what we could have done with this money to invite healing, transformative, non-violent, non-carceral contact with our communities. West Dayton has suffered enough and ShotSpotter is not an appropriate solution to its problems. Before I left my role as the Community-Police Relations Coordinator at the HRC, I spearheaded a community-based, public health approach to reducing violence in a particular West Dayton neighborhood. The early results were at least as promising as that of ShotSpotter and did not cost taxpayers nearly as much. Gun Violence is certainly an issue that needs to be addressed, but it is the result of a whole host of other issues that also need to be addressed, issues that ShotSpotter does not come remotely close to solving.