The needler in the haystack.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Pale performance at Planning Board

Plainfield's Planning Board took up again last night the matter of the proposed gunshot-detection system that has been floated by the Robinson-Briggs administration.

Public Safety Director Martin Hellwig, Capt. Steve Soltys and City Administrator Bibi Taylor were at the Planning Board last night to answer questions preparatory to the Board's adding the Shot Spotter gun-detection proposal to the five-year capital improvements plan.

I was surprised by board member Ron Scott Bey's question of Director Hellwig to explain how the cop on the beat actually learns of the gunshot. I had assumed the board would have had a complete overview in its first go-round as the Robinson-Briggs administration made its pitch.

Silly me.

The board members had a list (a full page, single-spaced) of carefully thought out and phrased questions for members of the Robinson-Briggs administration.

City Administrator Bibi Taylor came well prepared (along with a tote full of backup materials), and skillfully addressed the questions of vendor selection and financing.

Taylor explained that the state had a distaste for 'sole source' vendors, but that there was an exception made in the case of 'proprietary technology', which she explained would fit the present case with ShotSpotter.

She also explained that the search for funding for the cost of $1M was continuing (the Council had previously approved submission of a request for UEZ funding -- for which there is no guarantee).

Mr. Hellwig, on the other hand, did not seem as well prepared to deliver crisp detailed answers to the questions board members had about the new technology as to how response times would be affected, what the pressures to increase personnel would be, and comparative data from other communities (especially New Jersey) where the technology is already deployed.

In particular, I was struck by the lack of handouts for the board.

If this was the second go-round, and there was a list of questions the Board wanted answers to, why wasn't Hellwig prepared with handouts for the board and a presentation that marched succinctly down their list, answering each point at issue?

(After years of watching folks present to both Council and various boards, I am still amazed at the presumption that complicated issues -- often involving matters that cry out for charts or maps or photos -- can be addressed with WORDS ONLY. And I am NOT arguing for one of those god-awful PowerPoint abuses so much in favor; just an old-fashioned handout. For instance, the question about how the cops get the lead on the gunshots could have been addressed with one of several illustrations of the technology that surface with a Google query. Presto!)

Beyond the question of the effectiveness of Hellwig's presentation, it seems that no one is doing any real due diligence about the proposed technology.

There are questions raised about ShotSpotter's effectiveness in communities ranging from Chicago (see local TV story here) to San Francisco (see SF Appeal story here) to Charleston SC, which recently abandoned its ShotSpotter system (see Examiner story here).

Doesn't ShotSpotter offer a try-before-you-buy option which would allow everyone to see how the technology works IN A REAL PLAINFIELD SITUATION (not just a demo at the Rock Avenue ballfields) before rolling out the really big bucks?

Bernice was also at the Planning Board; for her reportage see here (2 items).

    -- Dan Damon [follow]

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    olddoc said...

    Your links confirm the doubts that I have raised in my blog.

    Anonymous said...

    Funny how ironic the situation in which we find ourselves . . one side trying to convince the other to spend a whole lot of money, which we don't have, and that could be better spent elsewhere than on new and questionable toys . . . when ,all of a sudden , BOOM! I told you so! Maybe next time you will listen to me!

    Anonymous said...

    Ineffectual and weak people parading themselves to the public as intellectual powerhouses . . . ethics, character and integrity just like Corzine and McGreevey!

    Anonymous said...

    They should install a LIAR detection system in City Hall and the Police Directors office. I BET IT WOULD GO OFF EVERY MINUTE !!

    Anonymous said...

    It seems the true Martin Hellwig is revealing himself to more than the cops that work for him. He is lost an woefully underequipped to run an urban police department with a violent crime problem. No wonder gang violence has skyrocketed!

    You can't just let the police department get severely understaffed of officers and supervisors then cross your fingers and hope that this all goes away!

    The only thing we are wishing goes away is YOU!

    Anonymous said...

    Don't be so rough on Marty, there is planty of blame to go around! You know what they say about too many cooks . . . . . .

    Anonymous said...

    I don"t think we need this shot spotter we all know where the shots are fired. They need to get the shooters

    Anonymous said...

    I have a question. The number of instances where people are shot within the city limits is a defined number. How many cases have been solved, with an individual charged? If we are getting most, if not all, then we clearly need to look at this systems cost effectiveness.
    The other question is what percentage of violent crime is driven with guns versus stabbing. If stabbing represents a significant percentage again what are the cost benefits.