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Controversial ShotSpotter technology to be used by police along 3 square miles in east, south Durham

The ShotSpotter technology is intended to help the city identify and deploy police to an area where gunshots were heard -- even if no 911 call was placed.

Posted Updated

Monica Casey
, WRAL Durham reporter
DURHAM, N.C. — The city of Durham has released a new map that shows where a controversial new police tool will be placed.
The ShotSpotter technology is intended to help the city identify and deploy police to an area where gunshots were heard — even if no 911 call was placed.

The new technology will monitor three square miles of Durham, including parts of Bowen Street, North Carolina Highway 55 and North Alston Boulevard. Unlike other forms of police surveillance, ShotSpotter only uses audio to detect gunshots.

Residents who live in the area covered by the ShotSpotter are just as divided as the rest of the city on whether or not the technology is worth it.

Natalie Spring has lived in the Cleveland Holloway neighborhood for 20 years. She and others on her street are against ShotSpotter being used in their neighborhood.

"Today, when we found out we were going to be one of the neighborhoods, it’s very surprising," Spring said. "They’re overpromising, and they’re going to under deliver. I know that what they promise in their marketing materials is not possible with the technology they have."

Debate over accuracy of ShotSpotter technology

Spring is a data scientist and she claims to have researched the technology.

"I actually am more afraid that because the technology is so bad, it’s going to send armed police officers in thinking there’s violence when there’s kids playing fireworks in the summer," Spring said. "I just don’t think that what they have to offer is going to help us. I want a solution to the gun violence in Durham."

Her statement is backed up with concern and research highlighted by civil rights leaders. A report reviewing the ShotSpotter technology in Chicago found that the technology sent police officers into parts of the city more than 60 times a day on false alarms. As a result, the technology increased the incident of stop and frisk tactics by police officers, according to the ACLU.
"The placement of sensors in some neighborhoods but not others means that the police will detect more incidents — real or false — in places where the sensors are located. That can distort gunfire statistics and create a circular statistical justification for over-policing in communities of color," the ACLU wrote on their blog.

"[From 2019 to 2021] across all clients, our audit confirmed that based on client reports, ShotSpotter correctly detected, classified, and published gunfire with 97.69% accuracy, which is slightly higher than the 2019 and 2020 accuracy rate of 97.59%," the audit said.

Durham residents: It doesn't stop with ShotSpotter

Durham residents believe there could be a net benefit to the technology.

"I really think it’s a great thing for the community," said Picasso Keaton, who manages a family owned business in an area of Durham called Hayti, just south of North Carolina Highway 147. Hayti is a historically-Black area of Durham that was victim of racist rezoning laws in the 1960s.

Keaton believes the ShotSpotter could have a tangible impact on the community's gun violence problem.

"I really think it can help, help our community, and help us come back together," he said.

Charlitta Burrus lives on the east side of the technology’s coverage area.

"In my area there is gunshots frequently," Burrus said. "I don’t really have a problem with it coming to our area."

She’s accepting of the program, but doesn’t think addressing gun violence should stop there.

"We’ve got to continue to communicate and work together. 911, police department, sheriff’s department. Everyone needs to be in the loop on what exactly is going on," Burrus said.

"If they could put it all around the city, periodically move the ShotSpotter technology from one neighborhood to another, and possibly cover all of Durham," she added, "Because right now, Durham is not exempt nowhere from gunshots and gunfire."

NCCU chancellor hopeful for change

The southern border of the coverage area touches North Carolina Central University’s campus.

Chancellor Johnson Akinleye asked the city years ago to deploy ShotSpotter technology near campus.

"I’m very grateful to the city for finally implementing, or at least approving the budget for that," Akinleye said. "I believe trying to do everything we can do prevent crime is something that we must do."

A string of shootings were reported earlier this year at an apartment complex known for housing NCCU students earlier this year. So far, three people have been killing in shootings at the Cadence at RTP apartments on Durham's East Cornwallis Road.

"On our campus we’ve invested quite a bit in enhanced security," Akinleye said. "But, I also think ShotSpotter is another layer that will help not just NCCU, but the surrounding community."

The city’s ShotSpotter webpage says the technology will be installed starting August 1st, and it will be deployed in mid-September.
In 2021, NCCU was ranked the safest college campus in the state by YourLocalSecurity.com, a partner of ADT-authorized provider SafeStreets.


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