Willingboro Township Considers ShotSpotter Technology Amid Concerns

Willingboro Township’s recent town council meeting was dominated by discussions on the implementation of ShotSpotter, a gunshot detection system designed to improve the community’s public safety. The system has sparked debate over its effectiveness, cost, and impact on privacy and civil liberties. While some community members and officials advocate for the technology as a tool to combat gun violence and aid law enforcement, others voice skepticism and concern about its potential implications.

At the forefront of the meeting was the presentation of the ShotSpotter system, which is engineered to detect unsuppressed gunfire and alert law enforcement within 60 seconds. The system uses acoustic sensors to pinpoint the location of gunshots with a reported accuracy level of 90%, providing officers with information such as the number of shots fired and the area of travel in the case of a drive-by shooting. The presentation highlighted the system’s role in facilitating quicker response times, aiding victims, and recovering evidence.

Despite these purported benefits, questions were raised by community members about the system’s placement and the confidentiality of the sensor locations. A notable concern was the decision to implement the technology within a one square mile area, which some considered inadequate when compared to larger urban areas that use the technology. Additionally, skepticism was voiced regarding the necessity of ShotSpotter given the perception of decreasing crime rates in the township.

The cost of the ShotSpotter system also came under scrutiny, with a grant covering two years at a cost of $99,000. Community members questioned what the expenses would be after this period and the system’s ability to distinguish between gunshots and other loud sounds like fireworks and duck hunting.

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Another issue raised was the potential impact on property values and the effect of gun violence on the community. While the value of human life was cited as a primary concern, the potential for reduced crime to positively affect property values was also discussed. The technology’s coverage area was clarified to be one square mile, with precise detection within an 82-foot radius.

Accuracy concerns were further addressed, with a statement indicating that up to 80% of shootings might go unreported, which could skew the perceived need and effectiveness of ShotSpotter. The technology’s ability to differentiate between gunshots and other sounds was debated, along with the potential for false positives and the impact on civil rights. The system’s representatives assured attendees about the training of incident reviewers and the admissibility of data in court.

The meeting revealed a spectrum of views on the ShotSpotter system, with some members expressing support for its potential to decrease crime and others cautioning about the program’s effectiveness, citing experiences from other communities like Chicago, Seattle, Pompano Beach, Buffalo, San Antonio, and Portland where the program faced criticism. The representatives from ShotSpotter, rebranded as “Sound Thinkers for Public Safety,” defended their technology and stressed the positive outcomes where it is currently used.

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The council and attendees debated the need for ongoing evaluation, including the importance of interim reports and a cost-benefit analysis before committing to the program beyond the initial funded period. There was a call for transparency and the provision of periodic updates to the public on the program’s effectiveness.

The meeting concluded with the Deputy Mayor and other officials expressing gratitude for the community’s engagement and highlighting the importance of communication and education within the community about the program’s potential impact on public safety.

Note: This meeting summary was generated by AI, which can occasionally misspell names, misattribute actions, and state inaccuracies. This summary is intended to be a starting point and you should review the meeting record linked above before acting on anything you read. If we got something wrong, let us know. We’re working every day to improve our process in pursuit of universal local government transparency.

Mayor:
Kaya McIntosh
City Council Officials:
Nathaniel Anderson, Rebecca Perrone, Samantha Whitfield, Dr. Tiffani A. Worthy

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