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Seattle abandons controversial gunshot detection technology in favor of alternative crime prevention strategies

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Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell announced on Friday that the city will not be testing a controversial gunshot detection technology system as part of its Crime Prevention Technology pilot project. Instead, the project will focus on the installation of closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras in neighborhoods with higher crime rates and the use of “real-time crime center” software to help with investigations. The decision to exclude the gunshot detection technology was based on cost estimates, with the city allocating $1.8 million for deploying crime prevention technologies.

The revised estimated cost to implement the pilot project is more than $2.5 million for the first year, with the gunshot detection system estimated to be about $800,000. The mayor’s office stated that only the CCTV and real-time crime center technologies will be implemented at this time to stay within the authorized budget. ShotSpotter, a leading gunshot detection product, uses acoustic sensors to identify gunshots and locate their source. While Harrell has supported testing this technology, other cities that have tried ShotSpotter have cited costs and lack of effectiveness as reasons for discontinuing its use.

Former Seattle City Council members, academic researchers, and others have raised concerns about the effectiveness and privacy implications of gunshot detection technology. Despite claims that ShotSpotter can improve the speed of response to gunfire, Harrell’s proposed funding for the technology was axed by the council. The Crime Prevention Technology pilot is part of the One Seattle Safety Framework, which aims to address public safety concerns in the city.

The three neighborhoods receiving CCTV cameras as part of the project are Aurora Avenue North, the downtown Third Avenue corridor, and the Chinatown-International District. These areas will also see increased police patrols, investments in community-based measures, and improvements in lighting and cleaning. In an effort to protect public privacy, the City produced surveillance impact reports for the CCTV and real-time crime center software, which will be shared with the Community Surveillance Working Group as required by Seattle’s surveillance ordinance.

The announcement emphasized the connection between gun violence and stolen vehicles, with an increase in verified gun violence incidents in the first five months of this year. Additional crime prevention tools are being added to address public safety concerns, with community support for measures to respond faster and improve efficiencies. The City’s efforts to enhance public safety through technology and community-based initiatives aim to address the needs of neighborhoods experiencing higher levels of criminal activity.

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