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Phil Matier: Oakland Police Want To Scrap ‘Ineffective’ ShotSpotter System

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Police at a triple shooting scene on Hunter Avenue in Oakland (CBS)

Police at a triple shooting scene on Hunter Avenue in Oakland (CBS)

PhilMatier01-370 Phil Matier
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OAKLAND (KCBS) — Police in Oakland want to drop the city’s ShotSpotter program—a gunshot detection system—calling it expensive and redundant, despite calls from residents in high-crime neighborhoods to keep it.

Police spokesman Frank Bonifacio told the Chronicle that the system cost $264,000 a year and that the money would be better spent for a police helicopter.

Shotspotter alerts, using a network of microphones, are sent to police when gunshots are fired but Bonifacio said they are most often followed up with phone calls from residents.

This is a debate that is not just happening in Oakland but in other cities as well. Police technology, which is meant to be more effective or at least make up for cuts in law enforcement. Ideally, it allows departments to function with fewer officers—who can be expensive.

The flip-side, however, is that a lot of these expensive systems just don’t work.

The Chronicle article also mentions the fact that ShotSpotter was virtually switched off for five years in Oakland because they only had one computer to use as a monitor, didn’t have a dispatcher relaying the findings and were unable perform maintenance on it.

But the first word in public safety is public and it’s the public (at least a big part of it) that likes these things—it makes them feel safer.

Noel Gallo, who heads the City Council’s Public Safety Committee, said every resident he has spoken to supports ShotSpotter.

There are others, however, who are against the use of ShotSpotter for privacy reasons. They claim that these can be used, not only to track gunshots, but also to hear street corner conversations and other such uses.

This is very prevalent in Oakland, of course, where the city council just last week voted to reduce the scope the Doman Awareness Center, a facility that uses a centralized system merging ShotSpotter, CCTV footage, license-plate readers and other first responder communications.

The bottom line is that when these private companies came on the scene touting these detection systems like ShotsSpotter, much of the public liked it; but if there isn’t anyone on the other side of the phone, when you make a call, it doesn’t matter.

Now there are statistics out there to support both sides, but again, it’s about how the public feels. It’s going to be up the City Council as to whether they want to renew the contract for ShotSpotter. This will take the decision away from the police and into the hands of the public—and back into the politics; there’s a mayor’s race just getting underway.

So I’m not sure anyone in Oakland is going to flip the switch on something that anybody wants for another 12 months.

And just to take it further, because this is the Bay Area, let’s say the City Council decides they no longer want ShotSpotter because it’s ineffective and—pardon the pun—not worth the bang for buck. Just imagine, that instead, they say another helicopter would be better.

How do you think that will go over?

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