Why Doesn’t Long Beach Have Gunfire Location Technology?

By: 
Bill Pearl

In recent weeks, parts of East Long Beach have experienced shootings. On Oct. 9, a man was shot/wounded in the area of PCH/Newport (a block east of Redondo.) On Sept. 28. a woman was robbed and shot while she sat in her vehicle in the area of PCH/Ximeno Ave. (east of the Traffic Circle.) And on Sept. 16, a male adult was shot/wounded while he and a woman walked in an alley in the 1600 block of Junipero Ave. (south of PCH, west of Redondo.)

Amid a shooting surge citywide, Long Beach doesn’t have a gunfire location system that could near-instantly identify gunfire locations. Officers arrive to find wounded or deceased victims or bullet casings and strike marks on vehicles or buildings.

On Oct. 4 Pasadena’s City Council – no longer willing to accept increased shootings – voted to deploy the ShotSpotter gunfire location system. The high-tech digital system uses strategically placed microphones that within seconds triangulates the location of gunfire. The company says it can distinguish between gunfire and fireworks, immediately sending digital data to ShotSpotter’s HQ which does a quick double-check and within seconds relays it via a telephone app to officers in the field.

Pasadena’s police chief strongly recommended deploying ShotSpotter. Pasadena’s city manager urged council approval. Pasadena’s mayor supported deploying ShotSpotter.

Pasadena PD said ShotSpotter will improve gunfire recognition (“was that gunfire?”), reduce fear of retaliation (reluctance to call), eliminate redundancy (did someone already call 9-1-1?) and resist community resignation (accepting a diminished quality of life.) It said the system provides better information for officers, helps locate and arrest shooting suspect(s), identifies multiple shooters and the number of rounds, including the types of weapons (high capacity or fully automatic weapons.)

The ACLU and other allied activists opposed deploying ShotSpotter, variously claiming (as they have in opposing other high-tech police systems) that it is inaccurate, doesn’t prevent or reduce crime and targets “overpoliced” mainly minority populated areas. To these arguments Pasadena’s city management reiterated that ShotSpotter is designed to do one thing: quickly identify a shooting location for swift police response and does it well.

Following a more than two-hour discussion, Pasadena Councilmembers voted 7-1 to approve a three-year, $640,000 contract with a one year trial period and a report back on the results of deploying ShotSpotter. Pasadena became L.A. County’s first city to do so.

So, what about Long Beach? Long Beach Mayor Garcia and incumbent Councilmembers in L.A. County’s second largest city have variously claimed to be digitally sophisticated while relying on last century’s primitive procedure in response to shootings. Civilian callers are expected to call and report the gunfire. This ensures some shots likely go unreported. The calling parties and victims may also offer vague, uncertain or inaccurate locations. This ensures the shooters flee to shoot again.

Amnesia File

Summary: On Oct. 4, 2011, the Long Beach City Council voted to fund ShotSpotter. The item was agendized by then-Vice Mayor/CD1 Councilman Robert Garcia and three other councilmembers (O’Donnell, DeLong and Andrews) and approved without dissent by the full City Council.

But Long Beach taxpayers never received ShotSpotter. In the year that followed, Long Beach city management (under Pat West during Mayor Bob Foster’s tenure) effectively defied LB’s policy-setting council and refused to deploy ShotSpotter.

Vice Mayor Garcia then reversed himself. On Nov. 13, 2012, Councilmembers Garcia and O’Donnell co-agendized an item to defund ShotSpotter and instead spend the $350,000 on LBPD overtime.

Details: On Oct. 4, 2011, then-Councilman Garcia (joined by Councilmembers O’Donnell, DeLong and Andrews) proposed to allocated uplands oil revenue to fund a number of items including “Shotspotter System: $350,000.” The agendizers said Shotspotter would be a valuable tool to assist the Police Department in responding to gun incidents and other types of crime.

Of $18.4 million in uplands oil revenue, the council allocated $3.5 million for Police and Fire Departments. with $2.2 million for LBPD overtime, $1 million for courthouse tunnel construction, $650,000 for technology upgrades for patrol cars and security cameras and $350,000 for “ShotSpotter Gunshot Detection System.”

The item carried 6-3 (after a series of tweaks to other aspects of $18.4 mil uplands oil fund): Yes: Garcia, [Suja] Lowenthal, DeLong, O’Donnell, Andrews and Johnson; No: Schipske, Gabelich and Neal.

But ShotSpotter never materialized. Asked about this by LBREPORT.com, on Oct. 25, 2012, LBPD Administration Bureau Chief Braden Phillips offered this explanation

“The City of Long Beach remains interested in acquiring a gunfire detection technology. City management and the Police Department have engaged in exploratory discussions with various vendors who provide the technology to discuss goals and constraints that may factor into the city’s decision to invest in a product. These meetings have been invaluable in the search for a system that will be compatible with the city’s sprawling urban environment.

“At this time, a gunfire detection technology that meets these preliminary objectives does not exist. Long Beach will continue to actively monitor this emerging technology for future use in the city.”

The gunfire location technology budgeted at $350,000 by the council in Oct. 2011 was simply never deployed.

On Nov. 13, 2012, Councilmembers O’Donnell and Vice Mayor Garcia brought an item to defund ShotSpotter and use the $350,000 sum for LBPD overtime. They wrote:

“After analysis by city management and the LBPD, it has been determined that ShotSpotter’s technology does not currently meet the public safety needs of the city. Further, it has been concluded that a gunfire detection technology that is compatible with the city’s landscape does not currently exist with any vendor. At this time, the existing funds will not be used to purchase or subscribe to this type of program.

“It is appropriate that the funds be utilized to further one-time public safety needs, as was the council’s intention. A positive one-time use for these funds would be Police Department overtime costs for Fiscal Year 13. This would allow the department, at its discretion, to have additional officers in the field where they are greatly needed. The LBPD and city management will continue to discuss and analyze gunfire location services as they are developed.

“Recommendation: Request city manager to re-appropriate $350,000 of Upland Oil funds currently budgeted for gunfire location services technology to the Long Beach Police Department to be utilized for FY 13 overtime costs...”

The vote to defund ShotSpotter and reallocate its funding for LBPD overtime was 7-0 (Yes: Garcia, [Suja] Lowenthal, O’Donnell, Schipske, Johnson, Austin and Neal; Absent: DeLong and Andrews]

Nearly a decade has now passed since the Long Beach City Council initially voted to fund ShotSpotter. In 2020-2021, Long Beach has experienced a shooting surge, mainly impacting working class and historically disadvantaged neighborhoods but now affecting more affluent ELB areas.

Entering the 2022 election cycle, the issue remains as neither Mayor Garcia nor any incumbent councilmember(s) have agendized an item to restore funding and deploy ShotSpotter.

 

Bill Pearl is the publisher of lbreport.com, an online, local news source since August 2000.

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Comments

Author Bill Pearl has been like a dog with a bone regarding ShotSpotter, a California publicly traded company. Mr. Pearl has published at least one article per year for the past 10 years criticizing the city for not using ShotSpotter and promoting Long Beach Police’s use of ShotSpotter despite the body of evidence it provides more problems than solutions.

A critical report (below link) by the Chicago’s Inspection General found deep problems with Shotspotter gunshot detection company and its technology, including its methodology, effectiveness, impact on communities of color, and relationship with law enforcement. The report questioned the “operational value” of the technology and found that it increases the incidence of stop and frisk tactics by police officers in some neighborhoods.

Moreover, it is still up for debate is whether ShotSpotter’s technology is even effective. When questioned about its accuracy, ShotSpotter refused multiple requests by the independent security technology research publication IPVM to carry out independent tests of its methodologies.

Probably the most concerning problem with ShotSpotter is the company’s apparent tight relationship with law enforcement. There are volumes of evidence ShotSpotter reclassified its bullet sounds at the request of law enforcement to provide false evidence used by law enforcement to charge people with crimes. This type of close relationship between ShotSpotter and police isn’t surprising — police departments are the company’s customers and the company needs to keep them happy. But that isn’t compatible with the use of its tool as “objective data” used to convict people of crimes.

MOST telling are the many cities which STOPPED using the technology after deciding that ShotSpotter creates too many false positives (reporting gunshots where there were none) and false negatives (missing gunshots that did take place). The MacArthur Justice Center’s report found that in Chicago, initial police responses to 88.7 percent of ShotSpotter alerts found no incidents involving a gun.

ShotSpotters shortcomings are very well documented. I can only wonder how much ShotSpotter (SSTI) stock Mr. Pearl owns.

https://www.aclu.org/news/privacy-technology/four-problems-with-the-shot...

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