Fayetteville resident Cynthia Leeks, ShotSpotter
Fayetteville resident Cynthia Leeks, 60, speaks in opposition to the city’s contract with ShotSpotter before the Fayetteville City Council at the body’s meeting on Dec. 13. Photo: Ben Sessoms / Carolina Public Press

The city of Fayetteville will give public updates every three months on its use of gunshot technology over the next year, City Manager Doug Hewett announced at the Fayetteville City Council meeting on Monday.

The city’s one-year contract is with the California-based ShotSpotter Inc., the company that will deploy acoustic sensors that use artificial intelligence to detect gunshots in a 3-square-mile area of the city. The company has contracted with other cities in North Carolina, including Wilmington and Rocky Mount.

Fayetteville hasn’t determined where the 3-square-mile area will be in the city. The city will choose the area with the highest amounts of historical 911 calls that reported gunshots. The city will also consider the number of incidents of gunfire, using gun violence data. The data considered for both 911 calls and gun violence data will be from a two- to three-year period, a city spokesperson told Carolina Public Press by email.

The city decided to provide quarterly updates in response to concerns and questions from residents at three public forums last week on the city’s contract with ShotSpotter.

Hewett said the city will report, as part of the quarterly updates, police and emergency response times using ShotSpotter.

ShotSpotter guarantees that the time from when a shot is fired to when local police and dispatch are notified will be 60 seconds or less.

The city will also report as part of the quarterly updates, Hewett said, any complaints about ShotSpotter that residents may submit to the city and the current crime rates at the time of each update.

The city will inform the public on how to make a complaint concerning ShotSpotter once the program is up and running, a city spokesperson said.

The City Council approved the contract with ShotSpotter Inc. in mid-November on the condition that the city hold three public forums. The city hosted those forums last week with the purpose of informing the public on how ShotSpotter works. ShotSpotter representatives spoke at the forums, outlining how the technology works.

Hewett said that about 100 people attended the forums.

Attendees said they were concerned about the effectiveness of the technology and increased contact with the police and marginalized communities.

Fayetteville resident Cynthia Leeks, 60, said in an interview after one of the forums that she’s concerned the police will use the technology to profile people not involved in a shooting.

“If you hear gunshots in a direction, more than likely it is in the crime-ridden area where people who have mental health issues are on drugs. This is where they hang out. They’re not shooting each other,” she said. “You’ve heard this sound, and the police rush in. Who are they going to look at?”

Hewett said after the meeting that ShotSpotter has committed to answering all the questions that residents asked during the forums. Hewett said that the city will publish the answers for the public to see once officials receive the answers from ShotSpotter.

Residents voice concerns

Residents voiced concerns with the public forums during the public comment period of Monday’s City Council meeting. Some of the residents who spoke said they thought the City Council would hold a special meeting to make a final determination on ShotSpotter.

The City Council, however, directed Hewett to authorize the contract after the forums. The council’s motion from mid-November did not require a special meeting.

“It’s just a checkbox,” said Angela Malloy, 52, of Fayetteville about the forums last week. “We’ve already decided to move forward. My question is, why wasn’t these forums called before even taking the vote? I’m not understanding why that didn’t take place.”

Leeks said during Monday’s public comment that she was concerned about the cost of the technology. The contract with ShotSpotter will cost the city more than $197,000 for one year of use.

“Why are we spending this kind of money?” Leeks said. She argued that the city should be spending more on programs that address poverty, agreeing with a prior speaker, Shaun McMillan. McMillan is a co-founder of Fayetteville Police Accountability Community Taskforce, a local organization that pushes for citizen oversight of the police.

“Take the $200,000 that you plan on wasting and pour that back into socioeconomic programs for the Black and Brown folks who live in a 3-mile radius you plan on overpolicing,” McMillan said. “Our people don’t need to be overpoliced. They need their basic needs met.”

In response to concerns from residents on Monday, Mayor Mitch Colvin cited a $250,000 microgrant program that the City Council approved earlier this year.
Members of the community can apply to the program by giving ideas to decrease crime in Fayetteville. If the ideas are accepted, the city will use a portion of the $250,000 to fund the effort, Carolina Public Press reported.

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Ben Sessoms is a former Carolina Public Press reporter. To reach the Carolina Public Press newsroom, email news@carolinapublicpress.org.

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