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BPD stands by ShotSpotter system

CommonWealth Beacon takes a look at the controversy over ShotSpotter, the expensive system police in Boston and other cities use to locate the source of potential gunfire: BPD Commissioner Michael Cox stood by the system at a Monday hearing, but critics say it has a large number of false positives, which means people in the minority neighborhoods where the sensors are located are more likely to be grilled by police investigating false leads. Chicago announced earlier this year it's abandoning the system.



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I don’t really understand why critics are opposed to this. It’s a passive acoustic system that’s deployed city-wide. It merely reports suspected gunfire (or cars backfiring).

In my experience, the majority of times ShotSpotter identifies false positives (which are almost always cleared up quickly with little to no “police grilling”). However, on more the one occasion it’s preempted 911 calls enough for us to get resources moving way earlier than they would have been dispatched otherwise. The City should listen to Michael Cox.


> I don’t really understand why critics are opposed to this.

Possibly because of the reason they said they were opposed to it:

> it has a large number of false positives, which means people in the minority neighborhoods where the sensors are located are more likely to be grilled by police investigating false leads

But you've already decided that's not the reason so obviously that can't be it.


It just means that police who responded were unable to find any evidence once they got there.

Like, someone goes to Harambee Park, pops off a few rounds with their Glock, does not leave a body. He leaves, police respond, look around the neighborhood and the guy's long gone and they can't find the brass in the grass.

The same speculation informs the allegation of "large numbers" of people being "grilled." A momentary stop by the police on the street is not getting "grilled."


If people in are saying they get grilled for false positives some of the time. If there are a lot of false positives and 95% are cleared quickly that still means there is police grilling 5% of the time. 5% is speculative as no numbers are provided by post.


Part of the criticism is that it is often deployed only in certain minority neighborhoods and then that cherry picked data is used to justify the limited deployment.


I don't know the pricing, but the sensors are not cheap, so there are only sensors in high-crime areas, which, yes, overlap with many areas with high percentages of minority residents.


Seems to make sense to focus on preventing crime in high-crime areas more than low-crime areas. If BPD did the opposite, you can imagine what they would be accused of.


because it gives more police interactions for a community that already feels over-policed. If shots are being fired and no one bothers to call it in, the problem is much deeper than anything solved by a shotspotter.

Better angle would to promote what good this tech has done, but if it's majority false positives then I can only assume the reasons for keeping it are dubious at best.


Shot spotter activation is probable cause for the police to stop and frisk, and in absence of recovering a firearm, detain anybody they want within a mile radius.

"Dragnet" policing


Can you point me to a (non-anecdotal) source for your claim? Thank you.


Piza presented a report with data to support his findings, including things like

Gun violence did not decrease. Shootings were not any more likely to be solved after the introduction of ShotSpotter.” He said there was also no evidence that ShotSpotter reduced gunshot fatalities through faster emergency response, as SoundThinking claims.

Do you have a similar report backing up your claims?


Only care about coddling criminals to the detriment of families



Well that's not a dogwhistle.


Follow Chicago's example on anything.


I don't usually give anons a like... But, Yeah.


Restaurants and food in Chicago are far superior to those in Boston because rent and barriers to entry are lower, thus competition and quality are higher. They build housing in Chicago, as a result real estate prices are flat/down in the last decade while they’ve doubled in Boston. Transit coverage is far better (the L line doesn’t just stop halfway through the city) and the transit system is far more reliable. Chicago has many wonderful qualities along with its share of problems.

The murder rate in Chicago is unacceptably high, but not as high as other cities. #10 per-capita behind St. Louis, Baltimore, New Orleans, Detroit, Cleveland, Las Vegas, Kansas City, Memphis, Newark.


Durham, NC did a one-year pilot program of Shot Spotter and the city council declined to renew the program. You can read about the results here:



Interesting to note that the company/product has been rebranded as "Sound Thinking", usually an indication that the original name suffers from too much (negative) brand recognition.


Check out the price tag


Remove the guns and drugs. And watch the shocking improvement of life for every single person all over.


I can't believe nobody's ever thought of that before. Why are you wasting your time commenting on Uhub threads when your genius level of insight could be helping people across the globe?


Older article here, but it addresses the ways in which the results of shot spotter can be manually reconfigured such that they can be abused by police and prosecutors. Perhaps they have cleaned this up by now, but I'm still pretty leery of it.


In case anyone doesn't want to click through:

The document is what’s known as a Frye motion—a request for a judge to examine and rule on whether a particular forensic method is scientifically valid enough to be entered as evidence. Rather than defend ShotSpotter’s technology and its employees' actions in a Frye hearing, the prosecutors withdrew all ShotSpotter evidence against Williams.

The case isn’t an anomaly, and the pattern it represents could have huge ramifications for ShotSpotter in Chicago, where the technology generates an average of 21,000 alerts each year. The technology is also currently in use in more than 100 cities.

Motherboard’s review of court documents from the Williams case and other trials in Chicago and New York State, including testimony from ShotSpotter’s favored expert witness, suggests that the company’s analysts frequently modify alerts at the request of police departments—some of which appear to be grasping for evidence that supports their narrative of events.


discussion on Greater Boston about this topic a few weeks ago: https://youtu.be/BodQOHBgwR4?si=qWJynDqIMKCi-Pc2


When Shotspotter was first introduced, BPD dispatchers would listen to sounds from the sensors and determine whether to dispatch or not. Many were familiar with the neighborhoods and buildings so could consider some context to the activations. Such as the frequent bus backfires. They could also push the audio to officers. At some point, I'm sure for money, Shotspotter went to a remote system, where Shotspotter employees listened and then coded as shots, or fireworks or other. This took away from the dispatchers and officers making the initial determination.
In terms of usefullness, the system routinely puts officers on-scene of incidents well before 911 calls come in and is able to pinpoint locations where witnesses can often just give a general area.