Grand Rapids Residents Oppose COVID Funds for Gunshot Tech

As COVID cases continue to increase, many residents have voiced their opposition to using relief funds to purchase the police tech. The city is still waiting for guidance as to whether or not the purchase is legal.

(TNS) — Grand Rapids, Mich., residents and others on Tuesday voiced opposition to the police department’s proposal for a gunshot detection system in a limited area of the city.

About two dozen people called into the city commission’s virtual meeting Tuesday evening, Nov. 10, during public comment all asking the elected body to not use $500,000 in federal coronavirus dollars either directly or indirectly to fund a ShotSpotter system.

Those voices were backed by 270 emails sent to the city commission opposing a purchase of ShotSpotter.

The system in question would use acoustic sensors located throughout 4 square miles of the city to detect, locate and alert officers of gunfire. Generally, those who called in were against a ShotSpotter purchase because, they said, the funds are better spent on proactive violence reduction, such as community investments, rather than a surveillance apparatus that detects violence after it happens.

Some claimed the system does not work well. Others said a purchase of police technology with COVID-19 relief dollars is not sensible, especially as new cases of coronavirus in Kent County continue to reach all-time highs.

Others speaking in opposition of the proposal said purchasing police technology stands at odds with calls to defund a portion of the Grand Rapids Police Department’s budget, as many advocated for during city commission meetings earlier this year.

“The community has specifically asked for funding for unarmed mental health intervention officers,” said one person, who called the proposal to use coronavirus relief dollars on a ShotSpotter “abhorrent.”

The Grand Rapids City Commission will likely consider the $500,000, two-year agreement with ShotSpotter at its Tuesday, Nov. 17, meeting. The money would come from federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act dollars set aside by the Kent County Board of Commissioners for the program.

County commissioners put forward the potential ShotSpotter purchase by the city as a way to possibly quell the uptick in violence Grand Rapids has experienced during 2020. County officials say the increase of fatal violence is in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The legality of using CARES Act dollars on the project, as well as if the city could use the CARES Act dollars on other public safety expenses and then use that budget surplus for the program, remain outstanding. City Manager Mark Washington said earlier Tuesday he was waiting on guidance from the county on the “flexibility” of using the dollars.

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, police officials said previously.

The majority of the emails received by the commission opposing a ShotSpotter purchase were a copy-and-paste letter saying that ShotSpotter is “problematic mass surveillance technology” and that community engagement efforts by the city were lackluster and rushed, as they took place the day before and two days after the 2020 presidential election.

The Grand Rapids Police Department held two town halls on the proposed ShotSpotter system, on Nov. 2 and Nov. 5. Both lasted 1 1/2 hours and featured a presentation by ShotSpotter representatives before public comment was heard.

The town halls were announced a week earlier. The rushed timeline was in part due to tight deadlines for expending CARES Act dollars, police officials have said. If not used by Dec. 30, the dollars will expire.

Washington, who said the police department has been transparent during the process, said he is appreciative of the county for making these dollars available to the city. He wanted to remind the public that the county is the reason why the city is deliberating the expenditure on a ShotSpotter system.

“I’m afraid that much of the frustration that has been voiced here would’ve been helpful if that same communication and feedback would’ve also been shared with the county policymakers as well,” Washington said.

Washington added that he received word late Tuesday from the county of “other potential uses of the (CARES Act) funding” and that “hopefully by next week we will continue to see what alternatives can be done to reduce crime.”

(c)2020, Walker, Mich. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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