The Seattle City Council votes to fund controversial gun violence prevention technology instead of tiny homes
The Seattle City Council voted down a revised proposal to use $1.5 million for services to support people experiencing homelessness on Tuesday. Instead, funds are now available for the original proposal to address gun violence through technology, ShotSpotter.
Seattle City Council:
Mayor Bruce Harrell proposed $1.5 million to support the new technology and has been an advocate for the tool since he was a council member, dating back at least a decade.
During Tuesday’s budget meeting, Seattle Council members were considering a proposal to use the money to support services to help people experiencing homelessness, rather than ShotSpotter technology.
The council voted against the amended proposal by a vote of 5-4.
Councilwoman Lisa Herbold was supportive of the proposed new direction.
“This technology simply doesn’t work. In fact, research shows that it hurts police response times by repeatedly sending officers to the wrong alerts, pulling them away from working elsewhere,” Councilwoman Herbold wrote in a statement. “We definitely need to make an effort.” More efforts to address gun violence, but this is just a waste of money. It’s money we should be using to bring people experiencing homelessness, people disproportionately affected by violence, into shelter and safety.
The Seattle City Council has been flirting with this new tool for at least a decade.
Last year, the technology was eliminated from Seattle’s budget despite pressure from the city’s mayor.
KIRO 7 has been covering this developing story for years, including in 2015, when we spoke with residents who shared mixed reactions to the tool.
“I think it will help us solve crimes, and the police will be able to pinpoint the source of the shots,” one of the men said.
Another man spoke at a city meeting and said, “I don’t think installing microphones all over the city operated by a third party is a valid way to do this.”
The Seattle City Council is scheduled to vote on the full budget later in November.
We spoke with Ralph Clark, CEO of SoundThinking, the company that created ShotSpotter, to learn more about the technology.
He said the technology is currently being used in more than 150 cities across the United States, including New York City, San Francisco, Chicago, Las Vegas, Oakland, Durham, and abroad in the Bahamas and South Africa.
“Several studies have indicated that 80 to 90% of neighborhoods that experience shootings are not reported by a traditional emergency service. So this technology will be a complete game-changer in terms of once again being able to detect, locate and alert on shootings.” Which otherwise would not have been known,” he said, “to police departments.”
The company is placing about 20 to 25 sensors per square mile in the area, Clark said.
The sensors then collect data on possible gunshots, which then alert the police.
He said the sensors can accurately detect gunshots up to 80 feet from the tool.
“Our kind of surveillance is very narrow. We’re trying to find out where shootings are taking place. We’re not identifying people. There’s nothing personal about the surveillance that we’re finding out. We’re not looking at age, sex, age or anything like that,” he explained.
Managing this technology would cost Seattle approximately $70,000 per year per square mile, Clark said.
We asked Clark, who has been an advocate for the tool for at least 10 years, whether he had funded Harrell’s campaign in the past.
“Donations to Mayor Harrell’s campaign in 2013 and 2014 were in relatively low amounts and simply reflect my personal and genuine support for Bruce as someone I have known over four decades. SoundThinking as a company and I as CEO of a public company since 2017 are not currently funding any of SoundThinking’s efforts,” Clark wrote in a statement. Mayor Harrell or any other local election campaign.”
We also spoke with Frederic Rivara, a professor of the Injury and Policy Research Program at the University of Washington, who has spent more than 35 years studying firearm injuries.
“There is a significant problem with gun violence across the United States, including in Seattle. We have seen increases in the last few years during the pandemic, with increases in homicides and suicides.
Many police departments across the country are facing staffing shortages, and the use of new technology could greatly help officers address gun violence in many communities, Rivara said.
“I believe the police do not have unlimited resources. So this is a way to use the resources we have in the limited number of police officers to achieve the best results,” he said.
However, critics have expressed concerns about how the tool is being used and how it could affect people’s privacy.
Critics have also expressed concerns that new technology may lead to over-policing of certain communities.
Rivera said he hopes police use this tool responsibly.
“I know that there has been that not only in this community, but in other communities across the country, where black men in particular have been singled out by police for increased surveillance. I hope that doesn’t happen here. I think the police are a group,” Rivara said. “Professional individuals and I hope they spread this in a fair way throughout our communities to try to address our gun violence to the highest levels.”
However, he stressed that it is “just one tool that the police will have at their disposal to use. It is not the only tool they have. It is not the only tool our communities have.”