Minneapolis’ Public Microphones for Police to Detect Gunshots Criticized as Racist

Shotspotter is a service sold to police departments nationwide to listen in and hear gunshots, and alert police nearly immediately to one in a city. The service involves placing microphones around a city in secret locations. The company claims that the microphones only listen for gunshots and do not passively listen to voices and conversations in the same way that phones and other digital devices now regularly do.

Left-wing media in Minneapolis is now saying that the program of covert city microphones is racist because a law intern at the University of Minnesota’s Legal Clinic, Alexander Lindenfelser, says blacks are three times more likely to live in an area covered by Shotspotter. Minneapolis has used the software for 20 years, spending $2.2 million on it since 2007. One hundred forty cities nationwide use Shotspotter. Minneapolis has 425,000 people, of whom 60% are white and 18% are black.

Minnesota legal intern Alexander Lindenfelser, whose unpublished draft of a law review article is causing the city of Minneapolis to reconsider the racial impact of gunshot detection technology

Minneapolis has some of the highest crime in the country, and just today, members of several gangs were indicted on violent felonies including trafficking in fentanyl and possession of machine guns. Crime is so high in Minneapolis that last month the police chief announced the police were likely to stop investigating property crimes altogether.

Major cities have suffered an ongoing rise in violent crime, facilitated, some say, by far-left policy demands related to so-called ‘criminal justice reform’ that gave light sentences to criminal defendants, provided low or no bonds to defendants causing them to fail to appear for court, and pushed early release from prison sentences and parole policies that kept criminals out of prison. In 2020, Hennepin County prosecutors, which includes Minneapolis, announced they would stop asking for bail, ensuring criminal defendants would be much less likely to show up to court dates, for many crimes.

The media was empowered to amplify this left-wing policy to eliminate Shotspotter after its author, intern Lindenfelser submitted the draft of his law review article to the City of Minneapolis for a “Racial Impact Equity Analysis” last month.

The legal test for whether a government program is racially impermissible is whether it has a ‘disproportionate impact’ upon a specific racial group. This legal theory derives from a 1971 Supreme Court case, Griggs v. Duke Power Co., which said that even if a policy was racially neutral in its drafting and creation if it led to results that were racially unequal, then it was a violation of the law.

Crime control and law enforcement in major American cities are often assisted and aided by technologies such as Shotspotter which critics have noted comes with a trade-off with privacy rights, and far-left critics claim is racist.

The company installing Shotspotter puts 20 to 25 microphones per square mile in the cities where it is installed, in secret locations. Leaked data suggests many of the locations are elementary schools, billboards, hospitals, public housing complexes. The company uses AI algorithms to assist in the analysis of what is and is not a gunshot.

The service provides real-time gunshot location tips to police, while operating a system of microphones in major cities, Shotspotter.

Critics of Shotspotter have also noted that it’s a major step in advancing the surveillance state, giving the government the authority to passively listen to even public conversations and process those statements for its own uses and purposes. The company claims it does not listen to conversations, only capturing gunshots, even though its recordings of conversations have been used by police to solve murders. Other critics complain about the system’s accuracy rate, though the company and some research suggest it has a general 98% accuracy rate.

The far-left American Civil Liberties Union sees no problem with Shotspotter’s wholesale violation of privacy, but says that the system is racist because it disproportionately affects blacks.

In most jurisdictions, the discharge of a firearm within city limits is a crime by itself. A gunshot is typically 140-190 decibels.

President of Soundthinking, the parent company of Shotspotter, Ralph Clark

The parent company of ShotSpotter is “SoundThinking” out of California with $96 million in annual revenues. The President of the company is Ralph Clark.

In a statement to the Gateway Pundit, a SoundThinking spokesperson said: “SoundThinking’s mission is to enable efficient, effective, and equitable public safety outcomes. Regarding coverage areas, race and/or demographics are never considered when deploying ShotSpotter’s system. ShotSpotter deployments are based on objective historical crime data, with some influence from elected officials who want to protect their communities. All residents who live in communities experiencing persistent gunfire deserve a rapid police response, which gunshot detection enables regardless of race or geographic location. Black and brown children and young men are disproportionately affected by gun violence, and their communities deeply suffer from the physical and mental impacts of gunfire. They deserve a safe, equitable, and fast response in their communities.”

Calls and emails to the Minneapolis City Council and Minneapolis Police Department also went unanswered.

the interface for police viewing of Shotspotter gunshot analysis, to determine the location of a gunshot

From Law Enforcement Today:

MINNEAPOLIS, MN – Minneapolis, which was ground zero in the nonsense that followed the death of George Floyd in 2020, responded to that by remarkably attempting to dismantle its police department.

Because nothing answers a spike in crime like taking away those sworn to enforce the law. The latest insanity to come to one-half of the Twin Cities is the possible elimination of ShotSpotter technology in the city. You can certainly guess why.

ShotSpotter is a technology deployed in numerous cities across the country. According to the company, 80% of gunfire incidents are never reported to police. ShotSpotter is an automated acoustic gunshot detection system that immediately notifies law enforcement upon activation and can direct resources to the location of the gunshots.

The system is installed around a city and uses microphones, a machine-learning algorithm, and human evaluators to detect gunshots. Once it is activated, it triangulates the sounds’ locations and alerts law enforcement officials to the activation’s whereabouts.

The city’s contract with ShotSpotter expired in March, and now come in the city is claiming the technology is “ineffective” and “promotes discriminatory policing” against minorities in the city. Proponents of the system, including law enforcement officials, say the technology helps officers more accurately determine the location of gunshots and get to the scene faster. However, none of that matters to activists, who are more concerned with virtue signaling than the safety of its residents.

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Former writer for Human Events, Morris NorthStar, and The Federalist. 2023 ISI George Washington Statesman Fellow. Featured in the Washington City Paper, Washington Post, New York Times, and Playboy.

You can email Benjamin Wetmore here, and read more of Benjamin Wetmore's articles here.

 

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