Seattle City Council votes to fund controversial gun violence prevention tech instead of tiny homes

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The Seattle City Council voted down an amended proposal to use $1.5 million for services to support people experiencing homelessness on Tuesday. Instead, the funds are now available for the original proposal to address gun violence through the technology, ShotSpotter.

SEATTLE CITY COUNCIL:

Mayor Bruce Harrell had proposed $1.5 million to support the new technology and has been an advocate for this tool since he was a councilman, dating back at least a decade.

During a select budget meeting on Tuesday, Seattle councilmembers were considering a proposal to use the funds to support services to help people experiencing homelessness, instead of the ShotSpotter technology.

The council voted down the amended proposal, 5-4.

Councilwoman Lisa Herbold was in favor of the new proposed direction.

“This technology simply doesn’t work. In fact, the research shows that it hurts police response times by repeatedly sending officers to mistaken alerts, pulling them away from doing work elsewhere,” Councilwoman Herbold wrote in a statement. “We absolutely need to do more to address gun violence, but this is just throwing money away. It’s money that we should be using to bring people experiencing homelessness, people who are disproportionately impacted 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 nixed from the Seattle budget despite the mayor’s push for it.

KIRO 7 has been covering this developing story for years, including in 2015, when we spoke with residents who shared mixed reactions about the tool.

“I think it would help us solve crimes, and police would be able to identify where the shots came from,” said one man

Another man spoke at a city meeting and said, “I don’t think installing microphones throughout the city that are managed by a third party is of valid means of doing this.”

The Seattle City Council will vote on the full budget later in November.

SHOTSPOTTER TECHNOLOGY:

We spoke with Ralph Clark, CEO of SoundThinking, the company that created ShotSpotter, to learn more about the technology.

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 overseas in the Bahamas and South Africa, he said.

“Numerous studies have suggested that 80 to 90% of gunfire neighborhoods go unreported by traditional 911. So this technology is really quite a game-changer in terms of being able again to detect, locate, and alert on instances of gunfire that otherwise wouldn’t be known to police departments,” he said.

Clark said the company places around 20 to 25 sensors per square mile in an area.

The sensors then collect data on possible gunshots, where police are then alerted.

He said the sensors can accurately detect gunshots within 80 feet of the tool.

“Our type of surveillance is quite narrow. We’re trying to figure out where guns are fired. We’re not identifying people. There’s nothing personal in the surveillance that we’re detecting. We’re not looking at age, sex, age or anything like that,” he explained.

Clark said it would cost Seattle roughly $70,000 per year for every square mile to manage this technology.

We asked Clark if he had funded Harrell’s campaign in the past, who has been an advocate for the tool for at least 10 years.

“The donations made to Mayor Harrell’s campaign in 2013 and 2014 were of relatively low quantities and simply reflected my personal and genuine support of Bruce as someone I have known over four decades. SoundThinking as a company and myself as a public company CEO since 2017 is not currently funding any of Mayor Harrell’s or any other local elected campaign efforts,” Clark wrote in a statement.

EXPERT:

We also spoke with Frederick Rivara, a University of Washington professor of the firearm injury and policy research program, with more than 35 years of studying firearm injuries.

“There is a huge problem of gun violence across the United States, including in Seattle. We’ve seen increases in the last few years during the course of the epidemic, with increases in homicides and suicides,” he said.

Rivara said many police departments across the nation are facing staffing shortages, and using the new technology could significantly help officers address gun violence in several communities.

“I think the police don’t have unlimited resources. So this is a way of using the resources in a limited number of police officers we have to the best effect,” he said.

However, critics have shared concerns about how the tool would be used and how it could affect people’s privacy.

Critics have also shared concerns that the new technology could lead to over-policing in certain communities.

Rivara said he hopes police will use the tool responsibly.

“I know there’s been not only in this community but other communities across the country, where in particular Black men have been selected by police for increased surveillance. I hope that doesn’t happen here. I think the police are a professional group of individuals and I hope they will deploy this in a way that is equitable across our communities to try to address our gun violence to the highest,” Rivara said.

However, he stressed it’s “just one tool that the police will have at their disposal to use. It’s not the only tool they have. It’s not the only tool our communities have.”