PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The sound of gunfire is all too familiar in Portland as police data shows the number of shootings are up 26% from those reported this time last year.
But what if that sound could immediately alert law enforcement? That’s the idea surrounding ShotSpotter, a technology tool that uses sensors mounted on light poles to triangulate the sound and alert police with a precise location.
“There has been a crisis in the city of Portland with the level of gun violence, and the havoc it is wreaking in our community,” said Ed Williams, the chair of the Focused Intervention Team Community Oversight Group. The group is currently finalizing a recommendation to the PPB commissioner to implement ShotSpotter in Portland.
While the technology has been used in over 120 cities, the system has not always been well received. A 2021 audit conducted by Chicago’s Office of Inspector General analyzed more than 41,000 ShotSpotter alerts and concluded that they “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.”
Beyond critiques of ShotSpotter’s effectiveness, the MacArthur Justice Center in Chicago found it’s overwhelmingly deployed to communities of color. Community leaders like Teressa Raiford, founder of Don’t Shoot Portland, worry that the system may disproportionately impact communities of color and reduce trust in police.
“I’m very concerned when we talk about privacy rights and civil liberties. Just the fact that I’m a black woman doesn’t mean that I can’t carry a firearm. And if you have police officers that are out here already shooting unarmed black and brown people disproportionately, I can’t imagine what would happen if they see someone that in reality would already seem to be a threat to them because of their bias,” Raiford said.
To combat community concerns, members of the oversight group said they have created a list of conditions regarding equity and justice that must be adhered to, should the city move forward with the technology.
ShotSpotter issued this statement to KOIN 6:
“ShotSpotter coverage areas are determined by police using objective, historical data on shootings to identify areas most impacted by gun violence. The sad fact is that gun violence disproportionately impacts communities of color. According to the CDC, gun violence is the number one cause of death among young Black men between the ages of 18-44. All residents who live in communities experiencing persistent gunfire deserve a rapid police response, which gunshot detection enables regardless of race or geographic location.”