Sacramento, Calif., Renews a Controversial ShotSpotter Contract

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Sacramento, Calif., Renews a Controversial ShotSpotter Contract

“This technology greatly improves emergency response times getting deputies to the area in a tactically safe manner to assist the affected community and/or victims of gun violence,” the Sheriff’s Office said while announcing two additional areas where the tech would be used.

Here are the important things to know about the company.

The Silicon Valley start-up was launched 25 years ago and backed by venture capitalist Gary Lauder, whose family has amassed wealth from Estée Lauder cosmetics. Forbes reported that Lauder’s “involvement, strangely enough, grew out of his interest in maps.”

Where did ShotSpotter come from, and how does it work?

Story Highlights

  • The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office announced it was expanding the use of technology that uses an algorithm to fight crime. The tech, called ShotSpotter, uses audio sensors in communities to detect shots fired.

  • The technology has been controversial. The Associated Press and Vice published stories that questioned — among other things — the effectiveness of the technology. On Tuesday, it was reported that ShotSpotter was suing Vice Media for defamation, seeking more than $300 million in damages.

We don’t know the full details about the algorithm and its success rate, but here is what has been reported: The company uses powerful audio sensors placed at least 30 feet above street level, as the San Diego Union-Tribune has explained. Once the sensors pinpoint the location of the sound that may be a gunshot, the information is sent to a review center where employees of SST Inc., the for-profit company that developed the system, determine whether it was gunfire. If it is confirmed, the incident is forwarded to police.

How widely is it being used in America and California?

The technology has been installed in about 110 American cities, and it is possible that number may grow as cash-strapped safety agencies look for new ways to effectively use resources. At least 13 cities in California have implemented the technology, according to Shotspotter’s website. Those cities are Bakersfield, East Paolo Alto, Fresno, Oakland, Redwood City, Richmond, Sacramento County, Sacramento, Salinas, San Diego, San Francisco, San Mateo County and San Pablo. Why is it controversial?

Critics of the tech say that at best it isn’t effective, and at worst, it isn’t reliable. How has the company responded to criticisms?

The company has published a page on its website called “ShotSpotter Responds to False Claims.” On it, the company claims it “has a 97% accuracy rate, including a 0.5% false positive rate, for real-time detections across all customers over the last two years.” The company also says it has “earned trust and high renewal rates from many police departments because the system is proven to be effective in helping to save lives, collect critical evidence and make communities safer.”