29 June 2024

In News That Should Surprise No One

The New York City Comptroller looked at the effectiveness of the Shotspotter gunshotdetector, and found it to be worthless.

There have been reports showing this for nearly a decade, and this ruling is well justified.

I guess that, unlike the NYPD who signed the contract, Shotspotter could not sway the comptroller with a few steak dinners at strip clubs:

Well, we’ll see how long ShotSpotter/SoundThinking will keep making that New York money. The outlook is not good. A lot of this will depend on how well the NYPD can defend the useless product it’s spending millions on, but at the end of the day, the city still holds the purse strings and it has the power to terminate contracts that simply aren’t worth paying for.

The NYC comptroller performed an audit of the NYPD and ShotSpotter not with the intent of burying them, but simply to determine whether or not the NYPD was paying its bills on time and whether or not ShotSpotter was fulfilling the obligations of its contract.

The answer to both questions is “No.”

First, the comptroller takes on ShotSpotter and its guarantees of certain amount of law enforcement success: 

When measured against the contractual performance standards set by NYPD, ShotSpotter met its 90% target for avoiding missed incidents in almost all boroughs except Manhattan, but when measured against the number of confirmed shootings, performance is far lower. During the sampled months of review in 2022 and 2023, ShotSpotter alerts only resulted in confirmed shootings between 8% and 20% of the time. 

That’s pretty terrible, especially by the standards ShotSpotter claims to hold itself. When you’re wrong that often, you start costing cities real money while providing very little value in exchange. 

During the month of June 2023, for example, out of the 940 ShotSpotter alerts that NYPD responded to 771 could not be confirmed as shootings upon arrival at the scene (82%), 47 were determined to be unfounded (5%), and 122 were confirmed as shootings (13%). NYPD officers spent 426.9 hours investigating alerts that were not confirmed as shootings. If only one officer responded, this equates to almost 36 twelve-hour shifts; if two officers responded, this number doubles. 

More than 427 hours of wasted payroll in a single month. That’s pretty f%$#ing terrible. But it could actually be much worse. There’s no way to know how much payroll is being blown by officers responding to ShotSpotter alerts because (surprise surprise!) the NYPD does not “track the amount of time — or associated staff costs — spent responding to such instances.”

(%$# mine)


Law enforcement agencies and ShotSpotter itself (although more often the latter) continue to defend this questionable tech with vague statements about safety and even more vague representations about its usefulness. But pretty much any city that’s actually dug into the data has come to the same conclusions: ShotSpotter may be an innovative use of acoustic detection tech, but it’s really not worth paying for.

It's not worth paying for.  It never has been.


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