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Detroit officials sued over gun surveillance technology ShotSpotter

shotspotter townhall sept. 2022
Beenish Ahmed
Michigan Radio
Detroit Police Chief presented information on ShotSpotter at a townhall style meeting in September 2022, alongside statements from community and faith leaders.

When Detroit Police Chief James White called a town hall in September over an expansion of the gunshot detection technology ShotSpotter, he said it was meant to address “misinformation” that he felt was behind the months of emotional opposition from city residents and delayed voting by City Council members.

A lawsuit filed on behalf of Detroit residents by a group of legal organizations Wednesday points to White and other city officials as responsible for the misinformation he decried.

The lawsuit centers on a 2021 city ordinance that requires a detailed report to be made public 14 days prior to holding public hearings or meetings about any new surveillance technology. The agency seeking approval, in this case the Detroit Police Department, did file a report in October, but the lawsuit charges that it was only available months after City Council began to weigh in on the issue in May.

ShotSpotter was first installed in two Detroit precincts prior to the adoption of the ordinance. But the plaintiffs in the suit say the expansion of the surveillance technology to at least 10 more areas of the city should have been subject to the new reporting requirements.

“They did not provide the required detailed report with substance, and they did not provide that within the timeframe required by law,” said Nancy A. Parker, a managing attorney with Detroit Justice Center, one of the organizations suing city officials. “We want the judge to declare that the City Council exceeded its authority when it approved those contracts in the face of the fact that DPD had not followed the law.”

The city’s lead attorney, Corporation Counsel Conrad Mallett, dismissed the allegations. "We believe this lawsuit to be without merit,” he said in a statement, and declined to comment further citing pending litigation.

After a season of debate and delay, City Council eventually approved a $1.5 million expansion for the use of ShotSpotter in part of the city and a $7 million extension of its use in other parts of the city in October.

Beenish Ahmed is Michigan Radio's Criminal Justice reporter. Since 2016, she has been a reporter for WNYC Public Radio in New York and also a freelance journalist. Her stories have appeared on NPR, as well as in The New Yorker, Harper’s, The Atlantic, VICE and The Daily Beast.
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