Bettering Plainfield with the facts since 2005

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Gunshot-spotting technology: Rivers, Storch and bang for buck

A 1-square-mile 'demonstration project' covering the most gunshot-prone areas would be cost-effective.
More time was spent at Monday's Plainfield City Council meeting on the ShotSpotter® gunshot-detection technology proposal than any other item -- almost two hours, exclusive of the Council's eventual and detailed discussion when it got to the item on the agenda.

In the course of his PowerPoint presentation, company representative Jack Pontious covered various aspects of the technology and its benefits, the licensing arrangements and what they guarantee (training, software updates, expert witness testimony, etc.), and the experience of several New Jersey communities with the technology.

A sign of Pontious' impact was that the vast bulk of the public comments which immediately followed his presentation were focused on the technology, its cost and the city's consideration of using it.

Though the project was eagerly supported by longtime activist and 4th Ward resident Nancy Piwowar as well as 4th Ward Councilor Bridget Rivers, a number of residents -- including some from the city's West End -- raised concerns about whether this was the best use of the proposed $1M (with a 15% annual maintenance agreement).

Among those with questions were West End residents J.M. Benjamin and Lamar Mackson, as well as Richard Loosli and a Berkeley Avenue resident involved with the mayor's 'Taking Back Our Streets' task force, both from the East End.

The Robinson-Briggs administration first broached the proposal in July, with a demonstration by company officials at the Rock Avenue ballfields.

Mayor Robinson-Briggs' proposal is blanket 3 square miles of the city with the gunshot-spotting technology at an initial cost in excess of $700,000 and an annual maintenance fee of about $100,000. Besides the sensors and software keying into the city's 911 system, the project would include some (number unspecified) laptops running the software and installed in police patrol cars.

During Pontious' presentation, several references were made to the grant cycles for which Plainfield would be eligible -- two years from application to funding in the case of Federal grants, meaning if the City started today it wouldn't see the grant monies until October 2012. There were also grants available through the County Prosecutor's office, but smaller and again with long lead times.

The question of timing provoked several questions from Councilors. City Administrator Bibi Taylor fell back to the mantra of Federal grants, those from the prosecutor's office and, as a last resort, 'the City's budget'.

Her remark that the Robinson-Briggs administration 'just didn't wake up one day' and make this proposal reminded me that I had discussed just this question in my August post on the proposal (see here).

The technology has been around for a dozen years or so. I have been citing
ShotSpotter® stories in the CLIPS blog for several years now, including East Orange's experience. Given that Robinson-Briggs experienced TEN HOMICIDES in 2006, her first year in office (see here), many involving gunshots, I fail to see why the mayor didn't propose ShotSpotter® earlier. Instead, Robinson-Briggs campaigned last fall for her second term on a platform of having reduced crime -- including a 300% REDUCTION in the murder rate.

City Administrator Taylor's protestations that this is not a panic-driven move are unconvincing (though Taylor, as a new hire, can hardly be held responsible for Robinson-Briggs' or Hellwig's failure to make a proposal years ago).

During the course of his presentation, Pontious noted that Trenton began its project on a small scale -- at $300,000, it covered just ONE SQUARE MILE -- and then grew it year-by-year with grants as it proved its effectiveness.

The idea of starting small intrigued Councilor Storch who pursued it with questions, drawing out the Elizabeth also started with a small 'demonstration' project.

Earlier in the meeting, Councilor Rivers, in her Public Safety Committee report, mentioned that of 29 gunshot incidents so far this year, 27 were in the 4th Ward.

Putting together the information, it isn't terribly hard to visualize a DEMONSTRATION PROJECT of ONE SQUARE MILE (the minimum the company undertakes) that would include the ENTIRETY OF THE 4th WARD HOT SPOTS, allowing Plainfield to get the benefits of the program WITHOUT BUSTING THE BANK with a $1M bond and $100,000-plus in yearly fees.

The Google map at the top of this story, with a coverage area outline in red (from Madison Avenue to Rock Avenue, from Front Street to Fifth Street and the city line from West 6th Street to Rock Avenue to Front Street) would cover the area of more than 90% of Plainfield's gunshot incidents and would give a fair indication of the cost-effectiveness of the investment and whether it should be expanded.

Here's hoping the Council and the administration will craft an effective demonstration project that won't break the taxpayers' backs and will leave doors open for other, more positive projects like jobs programs -- as Councilor Reid and author
J.M. Benjamin suggested.

Yes, let's hope.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Anonymous said...

Yes Dan you and Councilmen Storch would suggest that. I bet you one thing if this were happening in the 2nd & 3rd ward especially the 2nd ward there would not be a second or a thought about this being approved. Let's call it how we see it, you guys could care less what happens as long as it do not effect YOU. This is very sad. The residents in the 4th Ward have to put up with this nonsense from the council. I feel so sorry for them

Anonymous said...

Why should this be a problem at all when we talk about safety in Plainfield. Oh yeah I know why the 2nd Ward will not be getting nothing out of it. Here we go again. Plainfield wake-up. Modern day segregation.

Dan said...

@9:36 AM --
Hellooooooooooooooo!! Is anybody in there?

Did you look at the map with the story? I mean really look at it? It covers almost the entire 4th Ward, which Councilor Rivers said is most in need of this technology.

So, what it your complaint?

Don't tell me you don't know how to read a map, or that you don't know where the 4th Ward is.

And don't forget, Dan lives in the West End too.

Anonymous said...

You want to buy Shot Spotter with a 3.5 million dollars short fall in the budget and want city employees to take 10 days furlough or 5 percent pay cut.I DON'T THINK SO.

Anonymous said...

This is a complete waste of money. Let's use this money to stop people from shooting themselves rather then finding them after the shots.

Anonymous said...

Plainfield is segregated because it has chosen to be that way.

Blackdog said...

So Sharon wants to cover half of Plainfield all the time and the rest of us some of the time?
All the presentations in the world are great, but is the company trying to get our money gonna back up their claims with say a one year/money +10% back guarentee?
And what is to stop the criminals from now leaving the 3 sq mile area to do their dirty work?
And least but not less, we cannot leave out the Latino gangs . . .does this shot spotter pick up machete swings and knife thrusts?
What is wrong with good old fashioned policework and community involvement? You get to know the people on a personal basis . . . miracles happen!

Anonymous said...

Dan, There's a HUGE investigation over 20k but a 1M dollar system heaped on the backs of taxpayers gets a wink and a nod from every single member of the City Council. Let it be known that these Tax Abatements for high density housing have pushed all of us to the limit. I believe your crew of Storch, Mapp and McWilliams supported these items on the agenda. Yet every year our taxes go through the roof! Some of us can't afford an annual tax increase of 7.5%. If we can't count on the "New Dems" who can we count on!

If we clean this city up we wouldn't have to make it a tax free zone for housing developers!!!

Anonymous said...

ANON 10:55am you are either a Cory Storch/Adrian Mapp person or you are just a person that have not faced the reality of what's going on in the city of PLAINFIELD. We nee some safety here and we are not getting it. Have you been attending the Mayor's Task force meeting's. I thought not.

Anonymous said...

ANON 12:29pm

Makes an excellent point 1M dollars on unsubstantiated claims of improved safety and the New Dems vote yes along with Carter, Burney, Reid and Rivers. But full blown investigation over 20K?

Money doesn't grow on trees except maybe on the Grounds of City Hall. I use to really believe in the New Dems. I wouldn't vote for anyone on the council except Mapp.

Rob said...

The Mayor & Rivers want to drop $1M plus on this for the safety of the citizens and to improve the lives of our a nutshell, a quality of life fiscal responsibility, lower taxes and a government...mmmmmm, so lets see how it will work:
Reid, Rivers and Carter will vote yes because Sharon told them to.
Burney will play devils advocate back and forth to both sides then do what Sharon says the whole time "pretending" he's playing hard ball with our money.( wink wink...)
Rivers, Storch and McWilliams should simply abstain, not show up or excuse themselves to the bathroom when it comes up for a vote.
And Bibi Taylor said it best, "this administration didn't just wake up one day"...You've got that right Bibi, we are still waking for the hot mess of a mayor in city hall to wake up.

Anonymous said...

The spillover into other areas is already happening. Shots fired on George Street near Johnson Tuesday night. Cops here within minutes, but what was a quite neighborhood when we bought 4 years ago has changed drastically since. What is the city doing about that?

Anonymous said...

How come the US Army has not used this system to Kabul ?

Anonymous said...

I read about the fourth ward shootings. I also read that when questioned, no one knows anything. Hard to catch criminals and put them away if the people won't cooperate. You say they are scared? I get it - but then what do you want?