Little Rock city board at odds over ShotSpotter cost-effectiveness

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Concerns we uncovered about Little Rock’s ShotSpotters in February, are now the focus of a study conducted by the University of Arkansas in Little Rock (UALR).

ShotSpotters are devices that detect gunshots and alert officers, with the end goal of curbing violent crimes.

The devices are currently in part of the city referred to as a “hot spot” for violence.

Earlier this year in our investigation, we pulled records of every time a ShotSpotter heard gunfire.

Based on the records released to us by the Little Rock Police Department, in the two years ShotSpotters have been in place, they’ve detected 2,026 suspected shootings. Of those, 7 times police made arrests at the scene, and 8 other times named a suspect in their initial report.

Those results are similar to what researchers at UALR found.

According to the UALR report , when ShotSpotters were first brought to the city in December 2018, there was a drop in gun crimes. Researchers found there was a drastic uptick in gun crimes in 2020, with less cases being solved.

In the report, researchers couldn’t definitively say that ShotSpotters work. The report pointed to some successes and suggested the city undertake a “cost-benefit analysis.” That call for more information is something we first heard after our investigation in February.  

“What’s the rate of success, what are we getting out of it?” City Director for Ward 2, Ken Richardson questioned.

Tracking sucess rates of ShotSpotter is something Vice Mayor Lance Hines agrees he wants to see, but argues it should be coupled with expanding the program.

“I think trying to do a cost-benefit analysis on the small microcosm of where we’re doing ShotSpotter is probably not a good use,” Hines said. “If we’re spending taxpayer dollars we need to verify they’re being spent in a wise manner and that we’re doing what we’re supposed to. If we’ve got technology and we’re not utilizing it the way we’re supposed to, that comes into a compliance issue.”

Currently ShotSpotters are in about a 2 mile stretch of the city, the department has said it can’t disclose the exact locations. Hines says he wants that expanded to other areas known for violent crimes.

“My understanding is the wider area it’s deployed in, the better it gets,” Hines added. “Perception is reality in some instances, that if that makes folks feel safe, that’s a technology we should more widely deploy.”

For At-Large City Director Joan Adcock, a cost-benefit analysis isn’t her bottom line.

“We can’t put a price on the life of a person or the safety of officers,” Adcock said. “If our officers think it’s a good tool, then it’s a tool that I really want to look at support for them.”

We reached out to Little Rock Police; the department declined an interview.

In February the City Board of Directors voted to extend the city’s contract with ShotSpotter for two years. So far the cost of the program has been covered by grants, but as of next year the program will cost taxpayers around $150,000.

A spokeswoman for ShotSpotter directed us to the company’s data showing ShotSpotters across the country detected more gunfire in 2020 compared to the year before.

In an e-mail she said: 2020 was a year of crisis in America and cities saw an average 48% increase in shootings. Little Rock’s new gun violence tools, including ShotSpotter and its Crime Gun Center, likely contributed to better performance than the national average.

We tracked National Gunfire Trends comparing 2020 over 2019 (2021 is also being tracked) HERE

Gun violence bears a heavy cost to communities according to Giffords Law Center with homicides consuming $1.3m in local resources for each event and nonfatal shootings almost $800,000. Nationally, over 80% of gunfire incidents are never called into police.

ShotSpotter is used in more than 110 cities and enables a rapid, precise response to virtually all shootings so police can aid victims and collect forensic evidence that can lead to suspect identification.

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