ShotSpotter Responds to False Claims

ShotSpotter has recently been the subject of false and misleading statements and media coverage 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 is an outrageous lie. 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).
  • Some also have suggested that locations of alerts are being changed by ShotSpotter after the fact to serve police interests. What may seem nefarious is simply the difference between two data sources used for different purposes within a single alert. ShotSpotter alerts include both the nearest postal address for patrol officers as they navigate to the crime scene and the precise spatial coordinates (latitude/longitude) represented as a dot on a map to help in a ground search for evidence. In the majority of cases, the postal address is very close to the lat/long location. However, when an alert happens near a large parcel, such as a park, the single physical address for that parcel can be far from the actual location where the gunfire occurred. If ShotSpotter data is requested for use as evidence in a court case only the spatial coordinates are used.
Myth

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

Fact
  • This is false. 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 does not arrest, charge or convict anyone.
Myth

ShotSpotter does not bring significant value to communities.

Fact
  • This is blatantly false. While ShotSpotter is not a cure-all to end gun violence, proof of its effectiveness can easily be found.
  • Just to name three studies:
    • An independent study by a team of trauma surgeons at Cooper University Hospital in Camden, New Jersey, found that ShotSpotter helps first responders identify and assist gunshot wound victims who would otherwise not receive life-saving help. Learn more here.
    • The New York University Policing Project found that areas of St. Louis County, MO, reported that assaults (including gun-related assaults) declined by about 30% following ShotSpotter’s deployment. Learn more here.
    • The University of Cincinnati conducted an independent community sentiment survey with residents living in an area covered by ShotSpotter and found that 95% thought it was an effective way to fight crime and 89% recommended it to other neighborhoods.
  • There are numerous examples of ShotSpotter’s results and success stories with cities across the nation.