Detroit City Council approves controversial $7M expansion of ShotSpotter despite fierce opposition

Critics say the technology is unproven, invasive, and racially discriminatory

click to enlarge A ShotSpotter incident review center. - Courtesy photo
Courtesy photo
A ShotSpotter incident review center.

Detroit City Council on Tuesday narrowly approved a $7 million expansion of a controversial technology that critics say is unproven, invasive, and racially discriminatory.

After weeks of delays and debates, the council voted 5-4 to expand ShotSpotter, a technology that relies on a network of sensors to detect gunshots.

Council members Mary Sheffield, Gabriella Santiago-Romero, Mary Waters, and Angela Whitfield-Calloway voted against the expansion.

The council repeatedly delayed voting on the expansion in September because a majority opposed using COVID-19 relief funds to pay for the expansion. They said that money should instead be spent on addressing the root causes of crime and poverty, such as affordable housing, better jobs, school programs, transit, health care, and clean air and water.

To pay for the four-year, $7 million contract, the city is using funding within the police department’s criminal code enforcement budget.

Before Tuesday’s vote, police Chief James White implored city council to approve the expansion of ShotSpotter, saying it’s an effective crime-fighting tool at a time when the city is reeling in violence.

So far this year, he said, more than 225 people have been killed by guns, and 768 people have been shot. There also were 10 mass shootings this year, compared to seven in all of 2021.

“A rapid response needs to be in place,” White said.

Activists lambasted the council, saying the tax dollars could have been better spent in a city in desperate need of services. Branden Snyder, co-executive director of Detroit Action, called the expansion “a slap in the face to thousands of Detroit residents teetering on the precipice of homelessness, economic instability, and joblessness.”

He added, “While communities of color continue to be underserved, overlooked, and overpoliced, the Council has decided that spending millions of dollars on police surveillance over four years is more important than funding services and tools that are proven to help our communities thrive.”

Last month, the council voted 6-3 to renew the city’s original $1.5 million contract with ShotSpotter.

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