The Seattle City Council’s passing of the $7.4 billion city budget for 2023 this week will not include the funding Mayor Bruce Harrell has sought for firearm detection technology.
For now, the end of Harrell’s ten-year quest, first as City Councilor and now mayor, to put in place a system aimed at helping police track and respond to gunshots.
According to the Mayor’s Office, Harrell’s proposed budget—including $1 million for gunfire technology—focused on public safety because it was a primary responsibility of the city’s charter and a public concern that Harrell had amid an increase in gun violence. in 2021.
The sought-after technology, developed by companies like Fremont, California-based ShotSpotter, works by placing microphones in neighborhoods that are used to identify gunshots and triangulate the location of those shots.
During an appearance at the GeekWire Summit in October, Harrell described ShotSpotter as an evidence-gathering tool, not a crime prevention tool, and said he saw it as “good technology in certain areas.” However, he acknowledged that “it came with some controversy as people didn’t want to spy on it”.
Used in more than 135 cities across the country, ShotSpotter has received some criticism from researchers, privacy advocates, and other city leaders.
GeekWire previously reported on a study by the MacArthur Center for Justice at Northwestern University; review of data by the Chicago inspector general; and a lengthy 2021 survey by the Associated Press – all of which has put ShotSpotter’s effectiveness into question.
The Atlanta Police Department announced last week that it had handed over the technology after a six-month trial, as there was no room in its budget for the system. In a previous trial in 2018, the department found flaws in the service and said it wasn’t worth the cost.
Harrell was seeking $1 million to prepare the Seattle Police Department to purchase a gunfire detection system in 2023, including the planning, community support, development of the Surveillance Impact Report, and hiring a consultant to evaluate the system. An additional $1 million is planned for the system purchase for 2024.
All proposed funds were eventually cut from the budget.
At a budget committee meeting on October 27, Seattle City Councilor Kshama Sawant served as a sponsor of an amendment to abolish funding, with support from Councilors Lisa Herbold and Teresa Mosqueda. The video below details Sawant’s objections to the technology and funding (with some audio difficulties):
Sawant cites some of the previously cited peer-reviewed studies as evidence that ShotSpotter has been shown to fail to find evidence of gun-related activity. He called ShotSpotter “essentially snake oil.”
“ShotSpotter is a company that will profit only from the suffering of communities. [impacted] armed violence that needs real solutions. “This will not provide a meaningful service,” he said.
At the time, Sawant said he preferred $1 million to go to basic human services that were either underfunded or underfunded.
Responding to false claims about its technology on a dedicated page on its website, ShotSpotter told GeekWire that the Seattle City Council’s budget decision “doesn’t take away the effectiveness of ShotSpotter.”
“ShotSpotter is proud to serve 135+ cities across the country with a 99% customer renewal rate,” the company said in a statement. “We are confident that our technology helps make communities safer by informing police about incidents of gunfight they may never know about, and by providing a faster, more definitive response to help save victims’ lives and find critical evidence.”
The South Seattle Emerald reported last month that Harrell received small personal campaign donations from ShotSpotter CEO and another company executive in 2013 and this year.
The City of Seattle is facing major shortfalls in its budget. Operating deficits of $141 million for 2023 and $152 million for 2024 were known before the budget planning process began this fall. On top of that, the city released forecasts in November that predict a net reduction of $64 million in Real Estate Excise Tax, $9.4 million in General Funds, and $4.5 million in soda tax over the next two years.
GeekWire reported on Tuesday its plan to use surplus funds from a tax on insect businesses to fill gaps in the General Fund over the next two years.
Even without gunshot detection technology, the final budget provided Harrell with some of the public safety priorities he sought: “Ensuring our police recruitment plan is funded and respecting park enforcement officers’ requests to reside in the SPD.”
“While it’s not a perfect budget, it gives us something to build on,” Jamie Housen of the Mayor’s Office told GeekWire in an email. “The mayor’s job is to implement the budget and keep people safe, and we will continue to advocate for these solutions in future budget talks.”