Gunshot detection technology being debated again in Seattle

Nov 13, 2023, 4:00 PM | Updated: 4:13 pm

shooting beach...

Seattle police arrive at a shooting near Stan Sayres Park Memorial Park. (Photo from Seattle Police Department)

(Photo from Seattle Police Department)

Seattle officials are once again debating whether to install gunshot detection technology in the city, which is designed to alert police to gunfire.

According to SoundThinking, formerly known as ShotSpotter, its gunshot detection software “detects, locates and alerts police to gunfire in less than 60 seconds using a network of acoustic sensors across a coverage area.”

More on SoundThinking, formerly known as ShotSpotter: ShotSpotter tech nipped from Seattle budget despite mayor’s push

The City of Seattle has $1.5 million in next year’s budget for a pilot project that would pair SoundThinking with closed-circuit TV cameras. The city council is expected to vote on a final version of next year’s budget later this month.

Critics against the tech have claimed the money proposed for the gunshot tech can be used in better ways and could incorrectly identify gunfire. Opponents also cited the technology could lead to privacy issues.

“This technology simply doesn’t work. In fact, the research shows that it hurts police response times by repeatedly sending officers to mistaken alerts, pulling them away from doing work elsewhere,” Councilmember Lisa Herbold said in a prepared statement ahead of the final public hearing on the 2024 budget. “We absolutely need to do more to address gun violence, but this is just throwing money away. It’s money that we should be using to bring people experiencing homelessness, people who are disproportionately impacted by violence, into shelter and safety.”

Instead, Herbold spearheaded the push to receive more funding in the budget to grow the Regional Peacekeepers Collective, a network of organizations that work inside of the community to successfully disrupt gun violence.

Campaign Zero, a U.S.-based police reform campaign, said in a statement that Seattle’s consideration of SoundThinking is “misguided and threatens to make [the city] less safe.” The organization stated the technology “has never been validated to prove it can accurately label gunshots.” Campaign Zero also claimed SoundThinking has deployed police to “truck doors slamming, popped volleyballs, breaking glass and many other everyday noises.”

In response, SoundThinking stated its technology is 97% accurate.

During an appearance at the GeekWire Summit last year, Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell called SoundThinking an evidence-gathering tool and not a crime-prevention tool, and said he considered it “good tech in certain areas.” But he acknowledged that “it comes with some level of controversy because people do not want to surveil.”

“When part of a data-driven strategy, these technology-assisted crime prevention tools bolster the effectiveness of policing at specific places and deter crime,” Harrell wrote in a memo last month. “For example, research shows that CCTV cameras, widely used across Washington State and the country, can deter criminal behavior when coupled with other crime prevention efforts at specific places to address specific criminal behaviors and can improve investigations.”

The Mayor’s Office said locations will be prioritized based on the concentration of gun violence, human trafficking and persistent felony crimes, with an initial focus likely on Aurora Avenue North, downtown along and adjacent to the Third Avenue corridor and/or a portion of Belltown.

More on crime in Seattle: Seattle Police investigate after man killed in University District

“As long as the city is prohibited from setting its own gun laws because of state preemption, Mayor Harrell will continue to pursue innovative approaches to reduce gun violence, including community-based solutions and new technology,” Jamie Houser, a spokesperson for the mayor, wrote in an email to MyNorthwest. “Since last year’s budget deliberations, there have been hundreds of shooting events, thousands of rounds fired, and SPD continues to recover guns at a record pace.

“Homicides have increased, and firearms were used in 79% of homicide cases,” Houser’s email continued. “There is an urgent public safety need to address the epidemic of gun violence, which permanently tears apart families and communities, disproportionately communities of color.”

The mayor’s office also said that they haven’t decided which company will provide the technology.

The Seattle city council is scheduled to vote on ShotSpotter on Tuesday, November 14, during its Select Budget Committee Meeting.

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Gunshot detection technology being debated again in Seattle