Houston Mayor John Whitmire says city's 'ShotSpotter' gunshot detection tool is a 'gimmick'

Thursday, May 30, 2024
Mayor Whitmire says $3.5 million 'ShotSpotter' program isn't any good
Houston Mayor John Whitmire reportedly has plans to stop the $3.5 million "ShotSpotter" program, which is aimed at combating crime in the city.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Houston Mayor John Whitmire says it's time to end "ShotSpotter," a gunshot detection tool that's supposed to help fight crime.

ShotSpotter is set up in northwest and southeast Houston and uses technology to alert the Houston Police Department.

Whitmire has said he is serious about making Houston safer but says the technology isn't doing any good.

"It's a gimmick," Whitmire told ABC13 Thursday afternoon.

Data from ABC13 Investigates has found ShotSpotter hasn't made a big difference.

PREVIOUS REPORT: Future of 'ShotSpotter' brings mixed feelings on whether shooting detection tech helps combat crime

A controversial gunfire detection system is fizzling out of other cities. Residents in neighborhoods with ShotSpotter technology said they didn't even know it was there.

Eyewitness News found that only 5% of alerts from December 2020 through September 2022 led to an arrest.

There were nearly 4,400 alerts during that time frame.

Additionally, ABC13's partners at the Houston Chronicle found that only 20% of alerts over a similar time period even led to an offense report.

"That percentage is about half the percentage of a traditional 911 report," Chronicle City Hall Reporter Yilun Cheng said.

A traditional report is when a human being alerts HPD to an incident.

Another issue with ShotSpotter was acknowledged by HPD Acting Chief Larry Satterwhite at a budget meeting earlier this week.

It becomes a Priority 1 call when the technology alerts police to a potential gunshot. That means an officer in the area would have to respond to the digital alert for a gunshot over something like a burglary.

That doesn't sit well with Sunnyside resident Ardyth Guyer.

"I think that's horrible," Guyer said. "Someone's breaking into my house, but you're looking at something that may not be anything?"

I would love to see Houston next on the list to end the ShotSpotter contract
RoShawn Evans, Pure Justice

The program was first used in Houston in 2020 before the city signed a $3.5 million contract to expand it in January 2022.

The contract runs through January 2027, but Whitmire said they're currently working to get out of it.

He added they'd use the newfound money to fund a cadet class for HPD.

Some people also worry the technology further strains police interactions with communities of color.

READ MORE: Houston city councilmember concerned ShotSpotter may disproportionately impact communities of color

Houston police said the ShotSpotter system has helped officers respond quickly to gunfire. But a Houston councilmember said the program could end up unfairly targeting communities of color.

"I watched a car backfire all the way up the block that could set off ShotSpotter," RoShawn Evans with Pure Justice said. "I would love to see Houston next on the list to end the ShotSpotter contract."

Meanwhile, people who support it say it can help officers find gunshot victims and evidence.

"A lot of people don't want to get involved, and I get that. They're scared," Andy Kahan with Crime Stoppers told ABC13 earlier this year. "They don't want to notify law enforcement, so at least technology gives them the opportunity to proactively act instead of reactively."

Earlier this year, Chicago announced they would not be renewing their contract with ShotSpotter.

Other cities, including Dayton, San Antonio, Charlotte, and New Orleans, have also terminated their partnerships with ShotSpotter over various concerns.

ABC13 reached out to the company behind ShotSpotter for this story, but they didn't reply to our request for comment.


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Houston Chronicle reporter Yilun Cheng speaks with ABC13 about new data suggesting ShotSpotter being less-than-successful in the city.

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