Seattle scraps ShotSpotter plans; advances surveillance, license plate readers

Jun 3, 2024, 1:14 PM

ShotSpotter equipment being used in Chicago. (File photo: Charles Rex Arbogast, AP)...

ShotSpotter equipment being used in Chicago. (File photo: Charles Rex Arbogast, AP)

(File photo: Charles Rex Arbogast, AP)

Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell has abandoned plans to install acoustic gunshot locators in Seattle. The decision, which ends over a decade of efforts to implement this technology, was made after receiving more precise cost estimates for the comprehensive “Crime Prevention Technology Pilot.”

Last year the Seattle City Council authorized $1.8 million for a suite of new crime-finding technologies including ShotSpotter, a gunshot detection system using microphones, GPS and cell networks to alert police of gunfire. It faced criticism for its high false alarm rate and potential to increase over-policing in communities of color.

The $800,000 for Shotspotter proved to be too much for the Mayor. Instead, he proposed a pilot program of closed-circuit camera surveillance systems and an expansion of automatic license plate readers.

“Seattle needs more options in our public safety toolkit, and this pilot will add proven, evidence-based solutions and technologies to help communities,” Harrell said in a news release Friday.

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The pilot will see the installation of CCTV cameras in three high-crime neighborhoods — Aurora Avenue North, the Third Avenue downtown corridor and the Chinatown-International District (CID) — and their integration with new software into the city’s “real-time crime center” (RTCC).

“Due to the density of offices, businesses, residents and the boundaries (geographic shape) of the CID, and the characteristic of the CID being a small, self-contained city in itself with multiple parks, gathering spaces, as well as concealed and no-so-visible spaces, the test data will have foreseeable benefits and invaluable to the CID community,” CID Public Safety Council Co-Chair Gary Lee said in the news release.

The city will also expand the use of Automated License Plate Readers (ALPR) from 11 to all police vehicles with dashcams, aiding investigations and crime prevention efforts. The technology expansion follows extensive public engagement, which included over 1,000 comments and input from various community organizations, according to a release from the mayor’s office.

The Office of Inspector General for Public Safety will oversee the pilot’s implementation and evaluation, ensuring the technologies meet their intended goals. An initial evaluation will occur after the first year, with a final review after two years.

Matt Markovich often covers the state legislature and public policy for KIRO Newsradio. You can read more of Matt’s stories here. Follow him on X, or email him here.

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