The needler in the haystack.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Gunshot-Detection: 'Silver bullet' or boondoggle?

Screen shot of ShotSpotter in action.

In sharp contrast with the speed with which it has filled its long-vacant financial posts, the administration of Plainfield Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs is moving at a breakneck pace to implement the gunshot-detection technology recently demonstrated at the Rock Avenue ballfield (see Courier here, and Ledger here).

A little over a year ago Mayor Robinson-Briggs pressed for her re-election for having reduced crime (including her claim to have reduced murders by 300% -- see here). Now, we find Robinson-Briggs embracing crime big time. Well, maybe not embracing crime, but embracing spending big bucks on a scheme to combat the gunplay that has broken out in recent months, leaving one dead and thirteen injured.

But questions remain about the technology that should be resolved before Plainfield makes a commitment: cost, 'urgency', and effectiveness come to mind.

For those who have been paying attention, I have been following the technology and its implementation in New Jersey on my CLIPS blog since March 2007, when WIRED magazine, a technology trend-spotter, published a long article on the technology and its development (see here).

I also made note of the technology in March 2009, when the Ledger ran an article on the East Orange installation (see here), a reading of which leads to the first question: COST.

The Ledger reported on East Orange --

...[i]n 2003, the city had 73 reported shooting incidents. A year later, it installed the $92,000 gunshot-detection system, which covers 75 percent of the 3.9-square-mile city...
In Plainfield, the company is proposing an initial cost of $250-300,000 for the first square mile and $200,000 per square mile thereafter.

Would it be prudent to make some inquiries into the pricing practices of ShotSpotter? What accounts for East Orange getting 3 square miles at $30,000 per and six years later Plainfield looking at a 10-fold price increase?

Secondly, there is the question of URGENCY which the Robinson-Briggs administration is using to prod Planning Board approval -- with four officials weighing in with that argument at last night's Planning Board meeting as reported by Bernice Paglia in Plaintalker II (see here).

Why is it 'urgent' now and not six months ago? Or a year ago? Or in 2007, when Robinson-Briggs was betting her chips on the 'Operation CeasFire' program after murder topped out at TEN in 2006, her first year in office (see here)?

Even if ordered immediately, the system would take about three months to install, according to ShotSpotters, and even longer to 'calibrate'.

Is the Robinson-Briggs administration's request part of a PLAN, or just an ad-hoc proposal?

Lastly, there is the question of EFFECTIVENESS.

East Orange Mayor Bob Bowser has been an evangelist for the technology since the city first adopted it, at one time pointing to a 'two thirds drop in crime' (see here) in connection with his technology initiatives (which also include streetcams), but that was softened in the recent Ledger story, where his aide Darryl Jeffries says the system's 'greatest effect is psychological'.

The system's effectiveness has been questioned by criminal justice professionals, including Eugene O'Donnell of John Jay College in New York (see here) --

...Eugene O'Donnell, a professor of police studies at City University of New York's John Jay College of Criminal Justice, questions whether the cost of sensors is worth it and if they are effective.

"I am skeptical, and they are not cheap," O'Donnell said. "They are packaged as a miracle cure for violent crime, but they are not. In the places they have been installed, I don't see the case made that they achieved significant results, which I define as arrests."

O'Donnell made reference to a Boston Globe article last year that said
the $1.5 million sensor system there has only resulted in 10 arrests...
Arrests, or deterrence? Which will be Robinson-Briggs administration's measure?

And the answer to that question may help us figure out if this technology is being regarded as a 'silver bullet' or a 'boondoggle'.

Perhaps the truth is somewhere in between, and it would be prudent of Plainfield to weigh its commitment carefully.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Bob said...

Our mayor easily spends our money and now wants to get a system that won't even cover the areas where the shootings have been occuring. This mayor needs to find a mind to help the city, not do just get her name in the paper. We need serious solutions, not spending money we don't have on a service that doesn't help solve the problem. Show the citizens some real solutions, not gimmicks.

Anonymous said...

Is this supposed to be paid for with state and/or federal grants or by the tax paying residents of Plainfield????? Why was the gang activity allowed to proliferate to this degree. Plainfields Finest claim to know who and where the Bad guys are. Might they being insuring job security by allowing the citizens of Plainfield to be victimized. Most of Plainfields finest live in other towns and counties. Maybe the parents of these thugs should be held accountable for the crimes their offspring are committing.

Anonymous said...

You can.t compare E.Orange in the late 90's to Plainfield now.There was ony one way for go crime rate wise then and that was down.Several changes cotributed to their lowering the crime rate.Plainfilds crime fighting problems are a bit deeper than this system.Leadership has been lacking for some time.The morale has been low since 10 officers were laid off, a while back.The distractions created by the Directors lack of judgement and the arrests of several officers are only some of the issues.Spending money on this system without addressing these problems is a waste of money.I'd compare it with putting iceing on a burned cake.

Anonymous said...

I am not a fan of the Robinson-Briggs, however, I am a huge fan of the East Orange Police Department, which has embraced the use of technology in a very efficient manner. East Orange has graduated from simply using gunshot sensors to using smart sensors and cameras that can detect incidents of probable crimes. I agree with you that the cost of the system should be more in line with what east Orange paid, or maybe even lower given the declining cost of technology. However, we should support the Mayor in the implementation of this technology for hopefully it will help to reduce crime in the city and it has proven to be an effective crime fighting deterrent. We should also enlist the help of East Orange's visionary Police Director, Jose Cordero. Further we should all demand that the Plainfield Police Department begin arresting those who come into our City to purchase drugs and request that the Prosecutor's Office hand out stiff sentences to those purchasing drugs in the City. We have become the drug market for other municipalities around us.

Anonymous said...

To Anon 8:37,

It is a good thing you hide your identify when accusing Plainfield's Finest of "insuring job security by allowing the citizens of Plainfield to be victimized." Many of Plainfield Officers grew up in this city, became Officers and later moved to other places. Yet they still maintain their connections and roots, making them very effective at getting information. On the otherhand, your blantant statements show your disconnection with Plainfield and thus you appear to be a carpetbagger dissatisfied with your economic results. I don't hide my identity.

Retired Captain Siddeeq W. El-Amin

Dan said...

@ 9:093 and 9:52 -- The comparison with East Orange was about the price they paid. They certainly are doing the right thing with technology -- their ComStat has been the real thing.

The issue here is for the City to very carefully evaluate this program.

The Mayor has a habit of shouting 'rush, rush' when later it comes to light that very little or no thought has been given to a proposal. The most recent example is the proposed $5.5M bond to buy the YWCA building -- withdrawn after questions were raised, then fobbed off by the mayor as a 'clerical miscommunication'.

Yep I Said It! said...

. . . one of the reasons I moved to Plainfield 21 years ago was because of the diverse police and fire department. I most definitely agree with Captain El-Amin and I will say -when they aren't working as the troubling incompetent mayor's bodyguard they are very personable, caring and friendly.

Anonymous said...

If enough residents called to report gun shots, wouldn't that be about the same as a gun shot detection system?

This is why Plainfield is in the mess it is in. People just don't care. They don't care about reporting anything unless it involves themselves and they certainly don't care enough to get out to vote.

Seems to me that the money could be put to better use through educatiion of residents. I would rather see the Mayor hold block meetings, handing out food even, to meet with residents. Try going door to door and meeting people and explaining the issues now instead of only around election time

Anonymous said...

It has become apparent to me that the mayor connects with a very low denominator in her running of this city.

She is on the spot when comes to relating to crime, and she jumps right in. She views C-Town as a major victory for business. But in my opinion, she rules from a very low platform.

She has no vision to demand Plainfielders accept nothing but the best, because her "best" is "good enough". Scary that we will not get out of base thinking for another 3 years.

Anonymous said...

Plainfield needs to take a look at other gunshot detection systems. A fair and legal bidding process would insure a lower cost factor for the technology.