Clarke Wants ShotSpotter Tech for Philly

But does gunfire-detection system invade privacy?



Council President Darrell Clarke wants to bring ShotSpotter technology to Philadelphia in an effort to reduce shootings and track shooters.

The technology has been used for more than a year in Camden, where it’s credited with helping police reduce overall violence, and it’s now being rolled out in parts of New York City. The technology uses a series of sensors to detect gunfire and triangulate its location in real time, helping police respond quickly to a shooting scene if need be.

Clarke told NewsWorks he would like to see the tech tested in the Philadelphia Police Department’s 22nd District, where Officer Robert Wilson III was shot recently.

“If there’s an opportunity to help the Philadelphia Police Department do its job more effectively and more safely, City Council should embrace it,” Clarke said in a press release announcing a resolution calling for hearings on the topic. A similar resolution passed the Council in 2007, but did not result in the purchase of ShotSpotter at that time.

There have been debates about the technology’s effectiveness, but more arguments, perhaps, about whether it’s too effective: The microphones can occasionally pick up and record conversations, leading civil liberties advocates to worry that privacy will be lost.

“We are always concerned about secondary uses of technology that is sold to us for some unobjectionable purpose and is then used for other purposes,” Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst at the ACLU, told Take Part. “If [ShotSpotter] is recording voices out in public, it needs to be shut down.”