What is Shotspotter, and can expanding the technology help shooting response in Detroit?

Posted at 1:32 PM, Aug 31, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-31 18:32:35-04

DETROIT (WXYZ) — A 19-year old Detroit man, Dontae Ramon Smith, remains in custody after allegedly going on a shooting rampage.

In a period of two and a half hours on Sunday morning, four people were shot at random, three were killed.

The teen had no criminal record. A nine millimeter handgun was recovered. Police say he may have mental issues.

This case has caused a new push to expand what’s called Shotspotter technology in Detroit.

Right now, the system covers 6.5 square miles.

The mayor is proposing using $7 million in COVID-19 relief money to expand it to 28 square miles. But there is opposition on the Detroit City Council.

Shotspotter has been in Detroit since 2021. When shots are fired, a series of sensors pick up the sound, send it to the company headquarters who verifies it and sends it to Detroit’s Realtime Crime Center.

"They’re going to review it for about 30 to 45 seconds to confirm they do believe it is gunfire," said Capt. Anthony O’Rourke of the Detroit Police Criminal Intelligence Unit.

And this is the data sent, the sound recorded, and the pins where the system shows the shots were fired.

"A radius of 82 feet where the target location is," said Capt. O'Rourke.

In the case in April on Beaconfield Street, someone was critically shot. No calls to 911. The victim showed up at a hospital.

Mother of five is one victim of what Detroit Police call 'random' shooting rampage

And, then Sunday. No one called 911 after the first shooting. A mother of four would be killed next.

The mayor suggests Shotspotter could have been a lifesaver.

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"I’ll let everybody make their own inference. But how is somebody spending a half hour with a dead body lying on the sidewalk on Wyoming standing nearby and nobody comes and then he murders a second person four blocks away," said Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan.

Detroit City Councilmember Mary Waters said, "It could be true that Shotspotter might have helped."

Some members of the Detroit City Council are not on board with the mayor proposing spending $7 million in COVID-19 relief money to build out Shotspotter to four times the coverage area.

Some have said it is too "big brother," with cameras and mics monitoring people.

"There’s been a lot of misinformation out there that is utter nonsense," said Mayor Duggan.

Waters said, "I want to evaluate the entire thing whether or not we need Shotspotter, whether or not it actually works."

A study last year in St. Louis by Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville concluded: Less than 1% of Shotspotter calls over a five-year period yielded enough evidence to write a report.

From 2008 to early 2018, more than 19,000 Shotspotter calls but only 13 arrests.

"Again, I know what’s working in Detroit," said Duggan.

Council members will be invited to get their own demonstration.

The commander of DPD's 9th Precinct says Shotspotter helps them in payback shootings where they don’t get cooperation.

"We’re able sometimes to prevent retaliatory shootings cause we know from experience that individuals do lie about where they’re shot," said Commander Gerry Johnson of the Detroit Police Departments' 9th Precinct.

He added, "So we can use our Shotspotter technology to go to those locations."

There’s no timetable on when city council will take this up.