ShotSpotter has been around for decades and, according to the company, has been implemented at one time or another in more than 130 cities nationwide.
Although only a few years old in Albuquerque, numerous studies and surveys have been done on the technology and its effectiveness over the years.
On its website, ShotSpotter described the system as, “By itself, it is not a cure-all.”
“But when used as part of a comprehensive gun crime response strategy, it can contribute to positive outcomes for the police and the community,” according to the website.
A study by a group that receives funding from ShotSpotter reported a 30% drop in assaults, including gun-related assaults, in St. Louis County after the system was implemented. The study also found the overall number of arrests were “unchanged” by the technology’s use.
In addition, some community surveys have been favorable to the tech.
But other research has found fewer benefits of Shotspotter, including a recently completed 15-year study of the program in Kansas City.
Professor Eric Piza, director of Crime Analysis Initiatives at Northeastern University, began to study the ShotSpotter program there in 2019, where it had been in operation since 2012. The study considered crime data dating back to 2005, prior to ShotSpotter being implemented.
“We find very little crime prevention benefit of this technology,” he said of the study’s findings.
Piza said ShotSpotter didn’t change the upward trajectory of violence in Kansas City, which is facing spikes similar to Albuquerque and other U.S. cities.
He said the study found the collection of physical evidence on scene was 21% higher and victim-less gunfire was 20% lower in the ShotSpotter area compared with the control area.
But, he said, those “on-the-ground benefits” didn’t translate to a consistent reduction of gun violence in the area covered by ShotSpotter. Piza said there was no “meaningful change” in the number of cases solved or the level of fatal and nonfatal shootings.
However, he said the study found a benefit of ShotSpotter was speed, with an alert beating out a corresponding 911 call by an average of 125 seconds. That doesn’t mean first responders arrive sooner, but it means they could.
It could be life or death for someone who’s been shot.
“That may seem trivial, but it’s not. That’s essentially a two-minute head start,” he said, adding that they didn’t have data to say whether it paid off.
Similar studies with similar findings have been done on the technology across the nation. Lawsuits have even been filed related to the usage of ShotSpotter by police and prosecutors alike.
In 2021, the Chicago Inspector General found ShotSpotter seldom showed investigative value and rarely produced evidence of a gun-related crime.
Additionally, Chicago’s OIG found the technology changed police behavior, leading to unwarranted stops and pat downs after an alert.
Despite those concerns, Chicago renewed its contract with ShotSpotter for another two years for $2 million.