HomeColumbiaControversial gunshot detection tech deployed in Richland County using pandemic aid

Controversial gunshot detection tech deployed in Richland County using pandemic aid

Richland County, South Carolina – Richland County has used over $2 million from COVID-relief funds to implement a system called ShotSpotter. This system, which detects gunshots and alerts police, is used in over 150 cities across the United States, though it has been discontinued in some major cities due to controversy. The technology recognizes the sound of gunfire and promptly notifies the authorities to respond to the location.

Between 2022 and 2023, Richland County signed a contract with ShotSpotter, placing sensors in various neighborhoods and apartment areas as per the sheriff’s department. The county received upwards of $50 million from the American Rescue Plan Act aimed at COVID-19 relief, based on federal records.

Gretchen Barron, a councilwoman and the chair of Richland County’s COVID-19 committee, explained that the $2 million was fully dedicated to enhancing public safety. She detailed the process: the committee first reviews and recommends actions; these recommendations then go to the Richland County Council, presented as a committee report. Following this, the council discusses these proposals, provides feedback, and ultimately votes on them.

Many find the ShotSpotter system ineffective, biased and costly

A recent CNN report highlighted that the ShotSpotter system, described as an acoustic gunshot detection technology, has faced significant criticism from officials and community groups. Some larger cities have chosen not to use the technology due to concerns. ShotSpotter is designed to detect almost all gunshots in areas it covers, helping police respond quickly, gather better evidence, and potentially improve relations with communities, as stated by SoundThinking, the owner of ShotSpotter.

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Despite being used by over 150 cities nationwide, several big cities, including Chicago, Atlanta, and Portland, Oregon, have rejected the system. Critics label it costly, racially biased, and ineffective, often referring to it as merely “public safety theater.”

Read also: Richland County gears up for 13th annual South Carolina Ag + Art Tour

This controversy arises amid a severe gun violence crisis in the U.S., where gunshots are now the leading cause of death among children and teenagers, surpassing car accidents in 2020. ShotSpotter, established in 1996, initially saw adoption in about 20 cities. According to the company, it enhanced its technology between 2010 and 2019, expanding its reach to 100 cities.

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