TPD’s Controversial Gunshot Detection Program Unfairly Targets East Tampa, Advisors Say | Tampa Bay News | Tampa

Two Tampa city councilors say a controversial gunshot detection program is discriminatory in its targeting of East Tampa, a historically black community.

At yesterday’s city council meeting, the Tampa Police Department presented a report on the ShotSpotter gunshot detection program.

The presentation was requested by Councilman Lynn Hurtak in August because the program made international headlines for its efficiency issues and claims it violates civil liberties.

While Hurtak was absent from the council meeting on a business trip from town, other council members had tough questions for TPD.

Councilman Bill Carlson asked if the ShotSpotter technology was in South Tampa, West Tampa, North Tampa, or Ybor City, a neighborhood where shootings regularly occur. But TPD confirmed that the technology is only located in East Tampa.

“So you all see what happened with that,” Carlson said. “I mean, it’s redlining with technology, in a way.”

Carlson pointed out that violent crime is on the rise in the city, but TPD chose to focus on Tampa’s black community.

Councilman Orlando Gudes, a former TPD police officer, initially defended the program’s ability to help prevent gunshot deaths, but agreed with Carlson’s observation that it focused on the east from Tampa.

“We can’t say we only deal with one area, when all the other councilors know that, we get calls all over the city,” Gudes said. “It’s unfair to citizens. It’s unfair and then people can say, well, that’s racist.”

Deputy Police Chief Calvin Johnson explained the TPD’s reasoning behind ShotSpotter covering East Tampa and nowhere else in the city.

“When ShotSpotter started, we only had some funding,” Johnson said. “And we only had a certain area that we could put it in depending on the funding.”

He went on to say that the TPD has looked at statistics regarding shootings and where they occur. He said one area that had a lot of shootings was the area north of the University of South Florida, often colloquially referred to as “suitcase town,” and another area with a lot of shootings was East Tampa.

Johnson then said that the TPD had done a comparative study in high-fire areas, to figure out where to place the technology and that surveying the whole city of Tampa “wouldn’t have been reasonable, it wouldn’t be smart.”

“When you look at our violent crime gun numbers, you’ll be able to tell where they’re happening,” Johnson said. “That’s where ShotSpotter was located based on how many shots we have and where in town.”

After Johnson’s speech, Councilman Charlie Miranda accused television of increasing the number of shootings.

During the meeting, it was discussed that there is a shortage of agents at TPD, and it was claimed that the agency has lost approximately 200 employees. Several advisers, including Joe Citro, said that while the money for ShotSpotter would not come from a grant, the funds could be better used to increase the number of officers.

Today, ShotSpotter sent out a statement regarding the advisers’ observations at the meeting.

“ShotSpotter coverage areas are determined by police using objective historical shooting and homicide data to identify areas most affected by gun violence,” the company wrote in an email. “Tampa’s coverage area reflects the highest gunshot density. All residents who live in communities experiencing persistent gunfire deserve a prompt police response, which gunshot detection enables, regardless of the race or geographic location.”

For the past three years, the program has been funded by grants, says TPD, but funding for 2023 is uncertain whether it will come from grants, municipal funds or a combination of the two.

Capt. Travis Maus of the TPD Violent Crimes Bureau claimed that ShotSpotter worked.

“ShotSpotter basically covers about four square miles of the city’s 175 square miles and encompasses 17 schools and 10 parks,” Maus said. “In 2021-2022, there was a decrease of about 3% in ShotSpotter alerts we had in this area.”

But the problem with TPD analysis is that alerts don’t always mean shots, because ShotSpotter technology used to be a complicated tool that sparked controversy across the country.

The Chicago Police Department (CPD) used the technology for three years before an investigation by the OIG published in 2021 said the use of technology rarely leads to evidence of gun crimes. The OIG found that only 9% of ShotSpotter alerts contained physical evidence of a gunshot.

But not only that, technology has changed the behavior of the police.

“The OIG has identified evidence that the introduction of ShotSpotter technology in Chicago has changed the way some CPD members view and interact with people in areas where ShotSpotter alerts are common,” OIG wrote about ShotSpotter.

In August, ShotSpotter’s PR firm told CL that “the OIG report did not specifically suggest that ShotSpotter alerts were not indicative of actual gunfire. The report itself states that this may be due to limitations on the data and additionally many actual word circumstances may also account for this result.

In 2022, the Associated Press profile an innocent black man from Chicago named Michael Williams, who spent nearly a year in prison for murder after evidence from ShotSpotter technology helped convict him.

ShotSpotter says the company was not responsible for Williams’ arrest or incarceration.

“The arrest report never mentions ShotSpotter and Mr. Williams was not arrested until three months after the Real Time Alert was issued,” ShotSpotter wrote in an email. “Authorities decide to arrest and prosecute someone and ShotSpotter is not involved in those decisions. ShotSpotter identifies and alerts to shooting incidents, not people.”

ACLU say that using ShotSpotter increases the chances of people close to the technology being unfairly approached and searched by the police. And whereOften, sound sensors are placed in neighborhoods where people of color live, resulting in an increased police presence in those neighborhoods.

The board did not make a decision on funding the ShotSpotter technology at yesterday’s meeting, but requested a report from TPD and the police union next year, on how to fill the 200-officer shortage, reduce the violent crime rate and explain to the public how the TPD works day-to-day.

The report will be in the form of a workshop on February 23, 2023.

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