ShotSpotter Responds to False Claims

ShotSpotter has been the subject of false and misleading statements related to our leading gunshot detection technology. We embrace criticism and respect differences of opinion. Unfortunately, these untrue statements have been unfairly twisted to impersonate facts in the public dialogue about how we help communities improve public safety. On this page, we are setting the record straight, beginning with debunking the top myths about ShotSpotter:

Myth

ShotSpotter isn’t accurate and has a high false positive rate.

Fact
  • This is absolutely false. ShotSpotter has a 97% accuracy rate, including a 0.5% false positive rate, for real-time detections across all customers over the last two years. This was derived directly from police department reporting to ShotSpotter and has been independently confirmed by Edgeworth Analytics, a data science firm in Washington, D.C.
  • Potential gunshot sounds are captured by acoustic sensors placed on top of buildings or lamp posts. After ShotSpotter computers filter out non-gunshots sounds such as fireworks or helicopters, the remaining sounds are sent to one of ShotSpotter’s two Incident Review Centers. Specially trained reviewers playback the incident audio from multiple sensors, analyze the visual waveforms to see if they match the typical pattern of gunfire, and either publish the incident as gunfire or dismiss it as non-gunfire. The entire process is constantly monitored for quality.
  • ShotSpotter has been in operation for 25 years, serves more than 120 cities, and has earned trust and high renewal rates from many police departments because the system is proven to be effective in helping to save lives, collect critical evidence and make communities safer.
Myth

ShotSpotter alters evidence at the request of police departments and prosecutors, and these forensic reports have never been tested in a court of law.

Fact
  • This has no basis in fact. By March 2022 numerous media outlets, including the Associated Press, have corrected, retracted, or clarified this false claim that was originally published by VICE media. Court records from Illinois v. Michael Williams prove that ShotSpotter did not change the location of the gunfire between its real-time alert on the night of the shooting and its later detailed forensic report, the same intersection where Mr. Williams himself admitted the gunfire had occurred. In August 2022 VICE Media itself retracted this demonstrably false claim followed by the The Daily Beast and The Week.
  • Forensic reports are prepared by experienced forensic engineers and submitted to courts as evidence. These reports require on average eight hours to compile. Neither police nor prosecutors have input into how forensic reports are written and prepared or what they will say. Instead, they rely solely on the data our experts find in analyzing the data available to them about a gunshot incident.
  • No court has ever charged or found that ShotSpotter has criminally altered or fabricated evidence. In fact, ShotSpotter evidence and expert witness testimony have been successfully admitted in over 200 court cases in 20 states and our evidence has repeatedly survived scrutiny by courts following at least 14 Frye hearings and 2 Daubert hearings (These are acceptance tests used by the court to determine the scientific validity of evidence submitted in court).
Myth

ShotSpotter coverage areas are biased and lead to over-policing or potentially dangerous police deployments in Black and Latinx communities.

Fact
  • This false narrative is not based in reality and ignores the pain many communities are suffering from. We work with our customers – local law enforcement agencies and cities – to determine coverage areas based on historical gunfire and homicide data to assess the areas most in need of gunshot detection. We believe all residents who live in communities experiencing persistent gunfire deserve rapid police response, which gunshot detection enables – regardless of race or geographic location.
  • Additionally, there is no evidence supporting the claim that ShotSpotter alerts result in police arriving on scene “hyped up” potentially creating dangerous situations.
  • In fact, ShotSpotter equips police officers with enhanced situational awareness prior to arriving at the scene of a gunshot incident. For example, ShotSpotter informs officers of the number of rounds fired, whether there are automatic weapons or multiple shooters. More information leads to more effective preparation and responses.
Myth

AI determines if sounds are gunshots and sends alerts directing police into communities to arrest people.

Fact
  • This is completely incorrect and a misinformed understanding of how our system works. ShotSpotter has two AI algorithms and neither sends alerts to police. Only specially trained human reviewers send alerts that result in a police response.
  • The first algorithm determines the location of the gunfire using math and physics and the approach has been around since WWI. The company has been transparent about this algorithm and published a paper showing how it works.
  • The second algorithm is a noise filter that eliminates sounds that are not gunshots such as fireworks or helicopters. This algorithm filters out the majority of sounds that are not gunshots so as not to overwhelm the human reviewers. Reviewers then analyze the remaining sounds and determine whether those sounds are gunshots or not using a set of tools such as audio playback and visual analysis of the waveform. There are no civil liberties issues related to an algorithm that filters out noises that never result in a police response.
  • ShotSpotter’s technology identifies gunfire, not people. It has no way of determining the identity of someone and it does not arrest, charge or convict anyone. The authorities decide whether to arrest or charge someone. ShotSpotter has no role in these decisions.
Myth

ShotSpotter does not bring significant value to communities.

Fact

While ShotSpotter by itself is not a cure-all to end gun violence, proof of its positive impact on communities can easily be found.

  • Independent research studies show that more than 80% of gunfire is unreported to police (Brookings Institution) and that ShotSpotter detects this unreported gunfire to enable police to initiate a response (Nebraska Center for Justice Research).
  • Additional academic research shows that ShotSpotter alerts result in faster response times by police and ambulances reducing overall transport time to the hospital (Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery).
  • Police agencies and cities report that ShotSpotter helps them find and aid victims when there are no calls to 911. Here are just a few examples. In Oakland, CA, 101 gunshot wound victims were located and kept alive by police officers due to ShotSpotter alerts. In Pittsburgh, PA, ShotSpotter notifications saved the lives of 13 people. In 2021, the U.S. Conference of Mayors recognized West Palm Beach, Florida’s use of the ShotSpotter system as a “best practice” for enabling quick emergency response times so that officers with special training and proper medical equipment could begin critical care to save lives as the first to arrive on scene.
  • Two independent studies show a reduction in gun violence with ShotSpotter, when comparing coverage areas to non-coverage areas. St Louis County, MO experienced a 30% reduction in gun violence with ShotSpotter and Cincinnati, OH saw a 46% reduction.
  • There are numerous additional examples of ShotSpotter’s results and success stories with cities across the nation.