Gunshot-detection technology is expected to be up and running on Cleveland’s northeast side by early April, the first part of a citywide expansion.
Currently, the technology is used only in 3 square miles in the Fourth District.
Cleveland City Council in October passed legislation that would use about $2.75 million of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to expand ShotSpotter, a gunshot-detection technology that uses acoustic sensors and computer software to detect gunshots and alert police, throughout all five Cleveland police districts.
The Cleveland police’s Fifth District is the first in the city’s expansion, Commander Brandon Kutz, special assistant to the chief’s special projects and innovations, said Wednesday evening at a Fifth District police community meeting. He did not say where the technology would go but told residents it would cover two and a half square miles on the western edge of the district.
The department looked at homicides, felonious assaults, and calls for shots fired to decide what areas should be added.
After the Fifth District, detectors will go up in one square mile of the Third District, which covers the downtown area. A square mile of coverage will be added to the First District, which includes the area from West 85th Street to Kamm’s Corner and two square miles of coverage will be added to the Second District, which is just east of downtown.
The expansion is expected to be done this summer. The technology in the Fourth District will now be expaned to six and a half square miles.
Kutz said ShotSpotter has led to arrests, police recovering guns and police obtaining evidence.
Officers are told to look for victims and potential suspects when responding to a ShotSpotter alert, Kutz told Fifth District residents. They are also asked to look for evidence, knock on doors and talk to neighbors.
“We tell them they still have to do an investigation. They still have to do police work when they get there,” Kutz said. “The technology does not give them the right to go up to somebody, grab them and throw them in the back of the car and take them to jail.”
But some residents have criticized the technology, citing studies that show it does not reduce crime.
Kareem Henton, an organizer with Black Lives Matter Cleveland, has voiced his concerns with expanding ShotSpotter.
“(Police) give a very misleading bit of information when they’re speaking to or when they’re advocating for that technology,” Henton said on Thursday. “They talk about the guns that have gotten off the streets. But the question should be asked how many of those guns were used in crimes and how many of those guns were actually fired?”
In an interview with Signal on Thursday, Matthew Ahn, assistant professor of law at Cleveland State University, pointed out that ShotSpotter technology still requires a person to definitively determine whether or not a sound is a gunshot.
“Given that the largest policing stories in Cleveland history involve people misidentifying sounds as gunshots … there are deep philosophical concerns that I have with the use of this service,” Ahn said.
He’s referring to the “137 Shots” incident where officers shot Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams 137 times during a car chase in 2012. Police started chasing Russell after they heard what they thought were gunshots. The sound was later determined to be a car backfiring.
He said data available from other cities using ShotSpotter shows it’s not effective at reducing crime.
A 2021 report from Chicago’s Office of Inspector General concluded that Chicago Police responses to ShotSpotter alerts “rarely produce documented evidence of a gun-related crime, investigatory stop, or recovery of a firearm.”
The report acknowledges a study on ShotSpotter’s impact in St. Louis that found an 80 percent overall increase in the volume of police responses to reported gunshots – but no significant reduction in crime attributable to the ShotSpotter sensors.