After previously going forward with an AI-powered gunshot detection system, the Fayetteville City Council was split 5-5 at its Monday night meeting after reconsidering the contract with ShotSpotter.
The proposed one-year contract with ShotSpotter, the private company that operates the gunshot detection technology, would cost the city $197,500. Other cities in North Carolina — including Goldsboro, Rocky Mount, Greenville, Wilmington, Durham and Winston-Salem — already have the system in place.
To detect gunshots, the company uses acoustic sensors placed in a specific coverage area. Sounds from those sensors are analyzed by artificial intelligence to determine if the noise is a gunshot. The data is then reviewed by analysts, and the police respond, if appropriate.
Mayor Mitch Colvin, Mayor Pro Tem Johnny Dawkins and council members Kathy Jensen, D.J. Haire and Derrick Thompson voted in favor of the contract. Council members Shakeyla Ingram, Mario Benavente, Brenda McNair, Courtney Banks-McLaughlin and Deno Hondros were opposed.
Given the tied 5-5 vote, the contract with ShotSpotter is not currently approved. The issue would have to be considered at a future meeting for more concrete action.
It is not clear, however, what will happen next with the proposal. Mayor Colvin’s office did not respond to emails from Carolina Public Press asking if the City Council would consider the contract again at another meeting.
ShotSpotter did not comment about Monday night’s council action.
ShotSpotter’s gunshot detection system is controversial, as some studies show it can be ineffective while others have found it to reduce incidents of gun violence, Carolina Public Press reported.
In an email to Carolina Public Press, a ShotSpotter spokesperson cited a study from the Brookings Institution that found just 12% of gunfire incidents are reported through a 911 call.
“ShotSpotter is an acoustic gunshot detection system that fills that data gap by alerting police of virtually all gunfire in a city’s coverage area within 60 seconds,” Ron Teachman, director of public safety solutions at ShotSpotter, said. “We’re confident that our technology is effective in helping to save lives and capture critical evidence.”
A 2021 report from the Chicago Office of Inspector General, however, found that the alerts from the ShotSpotter technology “rarely produce evidence of a gun-related crime, rarely give rise to investigatory stops and even less frequently lead to the recovery of gun crime-related evidence during an investigatory stop,” though the report did conclude that the technology may increase police response time.
Council criticism of contract
The council originally voted 8-2 on Aug. 22 to approve the contract with ShotSpotter. Benavente and Ingram opposed the move.
At the council’s Sept. 12 meeting, however, newly elected council member Hondros made a motion to reconsider the contract. The motion passed 6-4 with support from Hondros, Benavente, Banks-McLauglin, McNair, Ingram and Thompson. This led to the most recent discussion this week on the contract.
Benavente has spearheaded the move to deny the ShotSpotter contract, speaking against the action on Aug. 22 and at Monday’s meeting.
“We’re all under a lot of pressure to do something important and worthwhile as relates to improving public safety. And I think that direction should be investing in our communities, not necessarily investing in private corporations,” Benavente said at Monday’s meeting.
Benavente said that he had emailed Fayetteville Police Chief Gina Hawkins about any potential negatives related to the technology but had not received a reply. He also asked the same question at August’s meeting, but Hawkins said she could not answer at that time.
“If we want to make it work here in Fayetteville, let’s learn from the mistakes that other municipalities have gone through,” Benavente said. “Let’s make sure that we’re not manufacturing consent for the police to overpolice certain neighborhoods. Let’s make sure that we’re not violating people’s Fourth Amendment rights. And let’s also make sure that we’re getting the data back to make sure this is actually a viable company.”
No members of council who voted for the contract spoke Monday during the meeting.
Mayor Colvin also did not respond to emails from Carolina Public Press about his support of the ShotSpotter contract.
At the August meeting, Colvin said the technology would give the city “an extra tool in the tool belt” to stop gun violence.