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Seattle mayor proposes implementing gunshot detection program

The Seattle Neighborhood Group opposes the technology, fearing it will lead to over-policing in communities of color.

SEATTLE — Seattle police officers could soon be dispatched to emergency calls through new technology designed to detect gunshots. If approved by the city council, the program would establish the region's “first gunfire detection system.”

Leon Griffin has called Rainier Beach in Seattle home for 30 years and he’s seen a thing or two in that time.

“I’ve seen so much happening here on this corner, I could just about write a book I’ve seen so much damn stuff,” Griffin said.

Soon new tech could assist Griffin's watchful eye and could help by sending police resources where they're needed. 

The program was outlined in Mayor Bruce Harrell's 2023-2024 Proposed Budget as a million-dollar investment in a "gunfire detection system," with the goal to "address the increase of gun violence in the city."

“They can try it but it’s hard to say if it’s going to work but the only thing they can do is try,” Griffin said.

While they have yet to announce the company that would be contracted, ShotSpotter holds a patent for the technology and is currently in 125 cities around the country. 

The so-called gunshot detection system, developed in the mid-’90s, uses sensors to detect loud noise and through an algorithm, determines if it’s a firearm. From that point, police are dispatched.

In a statement to KING 5, Shot Spotter said the company will not comment on cities they are not currently operating in but adds that its system “is a critical part of a comprehensive gun crime response strategy that enables a fast, precise police response to help save the lives of gunshot wound victims and capture critical evidence at the scene.”

In the budget proposal, the city says advocates point to many unsolved homicides in Seattle’s Rainier Beach area.

The Seattle Neighborhood Group, a nonprofit working to create safer communities’ argues the money could be better spent somewhere else – fearing an overreaction by police responding to a computer and not a human call for help.

“Research has shown that the effects of the shot shooter technology are damaging to communities of color. It’s unreliable and results in false alarms and conflicts within our communities,” said Cathie Willmore with the Seattle Neighborhood Group.

ShotSpotter claims a 97% percent accuracy rate on its website.


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