Federal pandemic relief dollars will no longer be the proposed funding source of a controversial $7 million contract with ShotSpotter.
Gail Fulton, a liaison for the city’s Law Department, told City Council members Monday that Detroit’s cache of American Rescue Plan Act funding won’t be needed for the expanded use of the gunshot detection technology, a decision that’s been delayed multiple times amid fierce community debate over the cost and effectiveness of its use. Instead, she said, it will come from the Detroit Police Department budget.
The funding proposal comes after several council members previously said they would be more willing to support ShotSpotter’s expansion if the funding source were changed, signaling a decision could finally be made once an amended contract is presented to them next week.
- Will ShotSpotter expand in Detroit? Council delays vote
- Is ShotSpotter effective? Data on Detroit technology fuels debate
Council President Mary Sheffield sent a letter to Mayor Mike Duggan on Sept. 27 asking whether DPD could find funding from its own budget to pay for the $7 million contract. She noted that some residents objected to using pandemic relief funding to pay a private company for gunshot surveillance services. Dozens of Detroiters who participated in public meetings this summer argued ARPA funding should be invested in affordable housing, home repairs and other support programs.
“While American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA) funding guidelines do not prohibit the city’s use of the funds for projects like ShotSpotter, a great number of Detroit residents have expressed a desire to maximize the finite ARPA dollars to to support our city’s response to and recovery from the COVID-19 public health emergency,” states the letter signed by Sheffield and council members Latisha Johnson, James Tate and Gabriela Santiago-Romero.
Staffing shortages within the police department freed up money that could be used to pay for the ShotSpotter contract. Last week, the council was told 352 police department vacancies this year created $18 million in budget savings. Fulton said an amended contract that proposes using DPD’s general fund budget instead of ARPA funds will come before the council on Oct. 11.
The change is unlikely to sway grassroots organizations that have opposed ShotSpotter’s partnership with Detroit. Rai Lanier, executive director of the criminal justice advocacy organization Michigan Liberation, said last week that “we don’t care about the funding source” – ShotSpotter just “ain’t it.”
“We need to start with public services first, and if there’s anything left over, we might be willing to have a conversation with police about what y’all can get,” Lanier said. “Right now, they have an $18 million surplus. We expect them to use that and stop asking the community for dollars that are designated for wrap-around services.”
Jacob Worums, a research manager with the national police reform nonprofit Campaign Zero, argued the council should “remain steadfast in their opposition” to ShotSpotter regardless of the funding source.
“It’s a win for the city that pandemic relief money is not being spent on problematic technology, but city tax dollars should not be used in its place,” Worums argued in a Monday statement. “Social services, violence interruption programs, and meaningful investment in communities are the only solutions to reducing gun violence and improving public safety.”
ShotSpotter uses audio sensors to detect outdoor gunshots and alert police of their approximate location. The California-based company first contracted with Detroit in 2020 to install the sensors in 6 square miles of the city’s 8th and 9th police precincts.
Detroit’s council last week voted to extend the original $1.5 million contract to keep ShotSpotter active in the city through at least 2024. Police Chief James White pleaded with the City Council and community members this summer to also support the $7 million expansion of ShotSpotter to 28 square miles of the city. The council last week delayed action on the expansion to explore alternative funding sources.
White has said ShotSpotter helps his officers respond to the scene of shootings faster and is leading to reductions in crime, though some council members and community organizations argue ShotSpotter’s effectiveness is unproven at best. The company’s contract with the city does not guarantee the sensors will prevent crime or lead to arrests, and data presented by DPD paints a muddy picture of its impact on shootings.
White, speaking to the council last week, said he’s open to scaling back the contract terms so long as ShotSpotter stays in Detroit.
“If the technology reduces crimes, I am committed to you rolling it back,” White said. “I am even committed to you saying ‘I won’t do three years, I’ll do one; I’ll do two years.’”
White did not discuss the possibility of using funds from his own department to pay for the contract, however. DPD did not immediately comment Monday on its budget surplus.
Kayla Rice, a spokesperson for Sheffield, said the council president hasn’t decided how she will vote on the contract. Sheffield said last week she wants the police department to first use ARPA funds on grants for community organizations, so they can provide wrap-around services to gun violence survivors. Sheffield said that preventative work should run parallel to ShotSpotter to “assure the community we’re not just reacting” to shootings.
“…here we are funding a technology that is reactive, versus pouring into these grassroots violence interrupters that are doing the work every day,” Sheffield said. “As a council we voted to allocate these groups money to begin to do work around prevention efforts.”
Detroit was awarded $826 million in federal ARPA dollars, the most of any city in the country. As of Aug. 31, the city has spent $38 million and encumbered $182 million for vendor contracts. The police department was allocated $50 million for gun violence initiatives, training facility improvements and other projects.
A July report on Detroit’s spending plan for ARPA funds states ShotSpotter’s expansion is meant to reduce gun violence, improve the deployment of police services and decrease calls for service. An additional $5.9 million in ARPA funding is planned to provide resources to families impacted by gun violence. Mental health and workforce support services are meant to prevent a cycle of violence that can follow shootings, according to the report.
The plan shows another $7.6 million in federal funds is intended to be used on other gun violence reduction strategies, including the purchase of mobile surveillance towers and vehicle recognition cameras at traffic intersections.
Sheffield said last week that she couldn’t support the $7 million contract until DPD addressed her concerns about funding community interventions and the department’s staffing.
“We have over 300 vacancies within DPD. I just received a call from someone who called the police department and no one came,” she said. “As we deploy this technology, do we have the capacity within DPD to address these particular ShotSpotter calls?”
Other council members, including Gabriela Santiago-Romero, Mary Waters and Angela Whitfield-Calloway, have made it clear that they oppose ShotSpotter regardless of how it’s paid for.
“Whether we fund it with ARPA or general funding, I’m a no vote,” Whitfield-Calloway said last week.