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Request to US Justice Department for Investigation of Gunshot Detector Purchases

Request to US Justice Department for Investigation of Gunshot Detector Purchases

The United States Justice Department is being called upon to investigate whether the use of a gunshot-detection system, known as ShotSpotter, is leading to the over-policing of predominantly Black neighborhoods. The nonprofit Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) argues that evidence suggests the deployment of ShotSpotter is disproportionately occurring in majority-minority neighborhoods, leading to increased police presence in these areas. EPIC has urged the DOJ to investigate whether this selective deployment violates the Civil Rights Act, specifically Title VI, which prohibits racial discrimination by organizations receiving federal funds. ShotSpotter, which relies on acoustic sensors and machine algorithms to detect gunfire, has been deployed in over 150 cities across the US.

EPIC has raised concerns about the accuracy of ShotSpotter, claiming that it has generated thousands of false alerts, while being predominantly deployed in Black neighborhoods. The system’s manufacturer, SoundThinking, disputes these claims and asserts that its sensors have a 97 percent accuracy rate. However, investigations in Ohio and Texas have revealed doubts about the system’s effectiveness, with instances where alerts have delayed responses to emergency calls. In light of these concerns, EPIC is urging the DOJ to assess whether local law enforcement agencies have used federal grant money to purchase ShotSpotter and if these grants comply with Title VI. Additionally, EPIC is calling for new guidelines to ensure the transparency, accountability, and non-discriminatory nature of funding for police automation systems.

In conclusion, EPIC’s attorneys have requested an investigation by the US Justice Department into the deployment of the ShotSpotter gunshot-detection system. They contend that the technology is disproportionately used in Black neighborhoods, leading to over-policing and potential racial discrimination. EPIC has cited studies and evidence that raise doubts about the accuracy and effectiveness of ShotSpotter, including the generation of numerous false alerts. They are urging the DOJ to examine whether federal grants have been used to purchase the system and whether these grants comply with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. EPIC is also calling for new guidelines to ensure transparency, accountability, and non-discrimination in funding for police automation systems and technologies.

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