TPD renews gunshot detection system as NYC audit casts doubt on ShotSpotter accuracy

Tampa police just got the green light to continue using a program called ShotSpotter.

City council signed off on spending almost $300,000 on a program to detect gunshots in East Tampa. The department says the tool helps them solve crimes.

Council renewed the contract on the same day the New York City Comptroller released an audit, raising questions about the system's accuracy.

It comes as some other cities are moving away from the technology. The NYC comptroller’s audit found 87 percent of the time, the alerts were wrong.

NYPD has disputed some of the metrics used by the comptroller's office.

"My big concern is return on investment. Any time you use tax dollars, you need to make sure it’s going to something that’s going to be proven effective," said City Council Rep. Lynn Hurtak.

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She voted against the ShotSpotter contract and added that previously the program was covered under a grant and this is the first time the costs are coming from the general fund. 

TPD has used the system since 2019, in a four-mile radius in East Tampa. The specific locations are not disclosed.

The technology uses sensors placed on various buildings that listen for sharp, loud sounds, triangulate the data and transmit an alert to police.

The NYC comptroller audit also found the sensors failed to detect more than 200 real incidents of gunfire in one year.

Hurtak worries time spent investigating false alarms takes away from officers responding to other 911 calls.

"When you really need the police, we really want to make sure that they are available," she said.

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On the other hand, TPD tells us FOX 13 it is an effective and proven tool.

Adding that ShotSpotter is helping them respond to crimes that may otherwise go unreported.

TPD’s data shows, in East Tampa only 17 percent of ShotSpotter activations had corresponding 911 calls. That means in more than 80 percent of its activations, no one called 911.

Chief Lee Bercaw was asked if he had confidence in the system.

"Yes I do, I wouldn't have asked for it if I didn't," said Bercaw.

TPD credits three arrests from the first quarter of this year to ShotSpotter, including a road rage suspect arrested in February in which a 4-year-old girl was hurt.

The technology has mixed reviews from neighbors in East Tampa.

"We do not need you to continue to invest in shots fired," said Yvette Lewis, President of the NAACP. 

Some say it's used to over-police black and brown communities, while other East Tampa neighbors told council they've seen it work in their community.

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"Police came, they were able to investigate. They made an arrest on the person who killed those two people," said East Tampa neighbor Mimi Martinez.

Hurtak said she also has concerns that ShotSpotter decreases people calling 911 because they know the police will come. She says it’s important that people still make those calls and not rely on ShotSpotter.

"It’s disheartening to hear that because ShotSpotter is in an area that people feel they don’t have to call the police because they are going to come anyway," she said. "It doesn't matter what neighborhood you're in, if you see something that's not right, you're supposed to call the police."

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