last April, chicago police shot and killed a 13-year-old child, Adam Toledo, after responding to ShotSpotter gunfire detection alert technology. Indeed, members of the Bull City council invoked the Windy City and its use of ShotSpotter on several occasions as they discussed, at length during a budget planning retreat last week, whether to bring SpotShotter to Durham. The consensus, by four votes to three, is that they will, and Durham will soon see gunshot detection sensors installed and police alerted to gunfire across the city.
Initially, ShotSpotter will come to Durham as a pilot program, funded in next year’s budget free for three months and at a cost of $197,500 for the following nine months. The board will then assess whether to continue the pilot project.
Council member Mark-Anthony Middleton said residents, many of them low-income, living in neighborhoods plagued by gun violence, and partners at institutions such as NC Central University, told him that they supported ShotSpotter’s installation in Durham. He points to the technology as an opportunity for a data collection pilot program that could save lives in communities where residents are so desensitized to gun violence that they no longer even call the police in the event of a beating. of fire.
“For me, it’s mostly about the belief in Durham that if you’re hurt or in trouble, someone should come to you whether someone calls 911 or not,” Middleton told his fellow board members. “If in the process we find shell casings, if in the process there are perpetrators in the area, if in the process we can connect some dots and remove the repeat shooters from the streets, bonus. But above all, when shots fires go off in our town, God forbid anyone gets hit and lay in the street bleeding because no one called in. In Durham, someone should come get you.
Council member Jillian Johnson, citing the Toledo murder, noted that Chicago had reassessed its use of ShotSpotter and said it had “deep concerns” about bringing the technology to Durham in light of incidents like this and new research that has emerged on the use of such technology in US cities. She, along with council member Charlie Reece, who is resigning from council this week, pushed for more engagement with Durham residents and communities before pledging to fund ShotSpotter, as did the city manager and Durham Deputy Chief Constable Anthony Marsh in 2015 when the council considered using body-worn cameras for police officers.
“There are widely differing opinions as to whether this technology makes sense for Durham, whether or not the technology works for its intended purpose, and even if it works for its intended purpose, what that would mean for response times of the police,” Reece said. “And there are a ton of questions.”
Board member Javiera Caballero, a former Chicago resident, made her dissenting opinion clear about ShotSpotter’s arrival in Durham. Chicago spent “an inordinate amount [of money] on policing and strategies like this, and their gun violence has not diminished, period,” Caballero said.
“There’s a lot of evidence that it’s not good technology,” Caballero said. “He is [owned by] a private company that makes money and pays fear.”
“There are other ways to have real community safety,” Caballero added. “They are tough and we all know that until we do something to regulate guns in this country, we will fail again and again.”
Council members Leonardo Williams and Middleton pushed back on requests from Reece, Johnson and Caballero to slow down the process with more community engagement.
“I don’t think we have much more time to listen more,” Williams said. “We’ve listened a lot. We’ve done research, polls…that’s one of the main issues, public safety. For us to have the luxury of sitting down and offering nothing but hopes and prayers, that’s just not what the community wants, or at least the communities I talk to.”
Middleton countered references to the Toledo murder with an anecdote of his own, drawn from his time in Brooklyn during the height of the crack epidemic.
“I distinctly remember getting up one morning and walking through Coffey Park and there was a body,” he said. “We heard the shots, we didn’t call the police, but someone died, someone got shot and they bled into the night because no one came to get them It’s not about violent crime, it’s not about catching the bad guy Like roadkill, like an animal, this young man lay there and bled in the night because nobody came because we were so used to hearing gunshots.
By the end of the conversation, it was clear to all that elections have consequences, and this last one in Durham changed the dynamic among the majority of council members in terms of approaches to policing and public security.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to reflect that community engagement around police body-worn cameras in Durham happened in 2015, not 2019, and was led by the City Manager and Durham Police leaders rather than by members of Durham City Council.
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