The needler in the haystack.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

ShotSpotter kinks still not worked out


How ShotSpotter works (graphic from The Saginaw News).

Saying Plainfield constituents had made many inquiries about the accuracy and effectiveness of the program, Council President Adrian Mapp invited Public Safety Director Martin Hellwig to the table Monday evening to update the council on the ShotSpotter program.

It has been a year since the Council approved the $169,000 tab for the first year's lease of the gunshot detection system, along with accepting a $250,000 technology grant for equipment and installation.

Hellwig's presentation was long on earnestness, but rather gun-shy about hard data.

It came out in Hellwig's discussion that of nine confirmed gunfire incidents since July 1, four were correctly picked up by the ShotSpotter system. Hellwig said one incident actually involved ShotSpotter identifying gunfire from an (unidentified) adjacent community.

(I am told by police that the double shooting incident across from the Drake House -- see my post here -- was indeed picked up by ShotSpotter, but that police were directed to an incorrect location.)

Hellwig said earnestly that it is 'a system that I have confidence in', which is all well and good, but the governing body has a right to know whether the taxpayers' money is being spent wisely and effectively -- and hard data is the only way to come to a sensible conclusion in that regard.

(The New York Times recently ran a lengthy story on the system and the issues it raises -- see here -- including whether the program's effectiveness or efficiency are settled matters.)

Among the questions I think Plainfielders deserve answers to are --

  • What sort of accuracy rate is acceptable under the terms of the contract?
  • How is agreement reached between the vendor and the City that the system is fully operational?
  • Why should the city be paying for the service (over $14,000/month) until it's fully operational?
  • Will the vendor extend the contract on a per month basis gratis until agreement is reached that the system is fully operational?
On the city's side, there are also some questions that deserve answers.

While it is understandable that the location of the ShotSpotter sensors is confidential, the information about where and when and how many shots are fired, etc., ought to be public information and readily available from the city for its residents.

Not only would such information about how frequent gunplay is and where it takes place go a long way to soothing residents' nerves, posting such information is valuable as a way of keeping the vendor accountable.

If ShotSpotter is to be judged a worthwhile expenditure of taxpayer resources, it must show that it is doing an acceptable job at spotting gunfire incidents in a timely and accurate manner.

Otherwise, why would we be interested?



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5 comments:

Bob said...

I'm glad Hellwig has confidence in Shot Spotter, but most of us don't have much confidence in him. We need hard facts and he seems to be short on hard facts in most things. Maybe he's spending too much time looking for male hookers on police computers.

Anonymous said...

Get rid of Hellwig and we can at least get back a portion of taxpayer outlay for a system and a political hack that do not work!

Anonymous said...

No doubt shotspotter can identify gunshots, but that doesn't measure its effectiveness. Results count. Does it help to such an extent in the capture of suspects or bringing aid to a victim as to justify its cost? So far, 9 gunshot incidents have been identified over 6 weeks at a cost of about $20,000, or about $2,000 per incident. Has anyone been captured that wouldn't have been? Was anyone's life been lost in the difference of minutes between shotspotter notifying police and call-in notification? I suspect it is like the compass on the dashboard of my car: fun to have but not needed.

Here is something else from the NYT's article:
"...the company now offers a subscription plan for a yearly fee of $40,000 to $60,000 per square mile..." Plainfield's coverage is less than two square miles. At $169,000 (and paying $250,000 for installation?!), did City Council fund a boondoggle?

Anonymous said...

How did Helwig find the money for the Shot Spoter System when he said we did not have enough money in the budget to keep the 2 Captains? WHY does the Mayor and City Council allow Helwig on the taxpayers dime take time for afternoon delights,and spend money on the spot spoter that does not work well, and not let keep police officers keep their jobs ????

Anonymous said...

Is the company that the Helwig purchased the Shot Spotter from making campaign donations the the local or county Democrat party?