(TNS) — Grand Rapids, Mich., police officials want city leaders to consider purchasing a ShotSpotter system at their next meeting, on Nov. 10.
Prior to that meeting, the city will hold two virtual town halls to get resident feedback on the proposed ShotSpotter system, which is intended to detect gunfire in specific areas of the city and then quickly alert officers of its location.
Police Chief Eric Payne said the town hall dates are tentatively set for Nov. 2 and Nov. 5.
The expedited schedule to consider a ShotSpotter system in Grand Rapids was prompted by the Kent County Board of Commissioners recently setting aside $500,000 in federal coronavirus relief dollars for its potential purchase. If those Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act are not used by Dec. 30, they expire.
The county’s legal team is still considering whether a ShotSpotter purchase by Grand Rapids with CARES Act dollars is legal. County officials told MLive/The Grand Rapids Press on Monday they hope to have a legal opinion in the next week or so.
County officials have previously allocated CARES Act dollars to violence prevention effots, on the basis that the uptick in violence in Grand Rapids is in part due to the pandemic and that these dollars are meant for community recovery from the pandemic.
The $500,000 in federal coronavirus dollars would fully cover the first two years of the system’s costs, if the city decides to adopt it. The city would pay about $140,000 for the third year.
If purchased, the ShotSpotter system would cover a 3-square-mile area of the city’s Southeast Side as well as a 1-square-mile area on the Northwest Side, Payne said.
Acoustic sensors would be deployed throughout those areas. When gunfire is detected, it is first confirmed by artificial intelligence and then a human operator. Grand Rapids police officers and dispatchers would be notified in under a minute of the gunfire location, number of shots fired and if there was more than one shooter.
Payne announced the tentative timeline for the ShotSpotter purchase consideration and town halls during the city’s Public Safety Committee meeting Tuesday afternoon, Oct. 27.
During the meeting, a representative of ShotSpotter presented information about what the system does and the benefits it brings.
Ron Teachman, director of public safety solutions at ShotSpotter, told committee members that the system can reduce shootings and homicides, improve police response times and evidence collection and provide police with gunfire data showing where to ramp up enforcement.
Teachman said the majority of gunfire incidents go unreported to the police and embolden criminals. Unreported gunfire can also make the public, who assume police are aware of the shots, believe officers just don’t care when police don’t respond.
“If they think the police know (about the shootings) but they just don’t show, what might they think about the police department?” he asked. “All this creates a vicious cycle: gun violence continues unabated, the police department is perceived as deliberately indifferent, there’s an erosion of community trust and the officers are put at risk.”
ShotSpotter is not a novel idea to Michigan, nor to Grand Rapids.
City leaders considered purchasing it back in 2015, but ultimately walked away.
Police union officials at the time called it a potential “money pit” and advocated for hiring more officers instead. Then-Commissioner Dave Shaffer said he favored hiring more officers as well.
Mayor Rosalynn Bliss, who was then a Second Ward commissioner, said at the time the city had not engaged with the community enough on the system. She also said there were privacy concerns with the system that needed examination.
The Saginaw Police Department used ShotSpotter from 2009 until it was cut from the city’s budget in 2013. Jackson considered implementing one in 2019.
Detroit ran a trial with the system in 2015, and this year recently received some federal funding to pursue implementing one, according to The Detroit News.
ShotSpotter does not list any active systems in Michigan.
Daniel Lawrence, a principal research associate from the Urban institute’s Justice Policy Center in Washington, D.C., told The Detroit News that, after having conducted a three-year study of the system, he and his colleagues found the system was accurate but did not lead to significant decreases in violence.
Teachman, however, said the ShotSpotter system does lead to violence reduction and pointed to statistics from cities where it has been used.
He pointed to reductions in shootings noted in the “most violent neighborhoods” in Chicago and Cincinnati. He also said the system helped reduce homicides in San Diego and Forty Myers, Florida.
“I’m excited about what I’m seeing about ShotSpotter,” said Commissioner Nathaniel Moody, thanking Teachman for his presentation and service as a former officer and police chief.
At the conclusion of the meeting, the committee approved recommending the acceptance of the county’s $500,000 CARES Act allocation for additional crime prevention efforts, but not specifically for the ShotSpotter system.
County leaders have previously said that if the city does not move forward with the ShotSpotter system, the funds can be used on other violence prevention measures instead.
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