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Tampa Police seek city council approval of new gunshot detection software contract

Posted at 5:16 PM, May 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-20 07:41:23-04

TAMPA, Fla. — On Thursday, Tampa City Council will decide if Tampa Police can continue their contractual agreement with a gunshot detection company.

ABC Action News first told you about TPD's decision to install ShotSpotter sensors around town back in December 2018. ShotSpotter went live in the city in late June 2019.

The company boasts alerting departments about gunfire within 60 seconds of the shots and will pinpoint them within 75 feet. In City Council documents, TPD called the purchase "excellent" thus far.

We obtained 2020 statistics from Tampa PD about how well ShotSpotter has worked for them. We were told officers have been alerted to 941 incidents, capturing 10 homicides and 47 shootings with non-fatal injuries. A TPD spokesperson said officers make 14 arrests thanks to ShotSpotter notifications.



The gunshot detection company boasts it has a 90% accuracy rate, TPD said it was 10% lower for them. ShotSpotter works by sensors alerting a team of audio experts when it hears what sounds like gunshots. It's up to that staff to differentiate if it's actual gunfire or another loud noise, like fireworks. If it is gunfire, they'll send an alert to officers.

Matthew Guariglia who works as a policy analyst for civil liberties organization Electronic Frontier Foundation says human error is normal and possible, which could lead to dangerous situations.

"People are flawed and technology is flawed. And so the concern is that when you have police who are going to what they believe is an incident in which shots have been fired, they are going to come ready with guns drawn," Guariglia said.

Tampa Police Department's newest agreement with ShotSpotter added an extra square mile of coverage that went live last October and renewed the contract until June 2022.

ABC Action News also talked with USF professor Dr. Ráchael Powers who was tasked with evaluating the technology. She says they want to understand the long-term effectiveness of the technology and says that will take a couple of years before completed.

But Dr. Powers and her team are already seeing good trends like officers spending more time at the scene, which could lead to better witnesses and evidence gathering. She also says the department is using the knowledge effectively according to the company's best practices.

Guariglia says ShotSpotter isn't as invasive as some surveillance technology, like facial recognition, but could be in the future.

"They’re trying to not just detect gunfire when it happens, they're trying to prevent it before it happens," he said. "And [it] could expose civilians moving about the city to more police violence."

ShotSpotter will not be paid for by taxpayers. The more than $250,000 price tag will be paid with grant money.