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Despite controversy, ShotSpotter is here to stay

Earlier this week, Denver City Council voted 10-1 to renew a contract with ShotSpotter, a controversial gunshot detection technology, despite stark opposition from many of the citizens who participated in a public hearing on the matter. The new $4.7 million contract will last through December 2026.

What exactly is ShotSpotter?
It’s a company that offers surveillance technology to police departments, including microphones that can be posted around a city and proprietary algorithms to detect gunshots and alert authorities. ShotSpotter sells itself as a “leader in precision policing technology” that aims to combat gun violence. More than 100 police departments across the country rely on the tech.

So what’s the problem?
ShotSpotter came under fire last year after a few high-profile incidents in Chicago prompted questions about the technology’s reliability. Investigations revealed it isn’t as precise as it purports to be — surveillance mics can mistakenly report fireworks or backfiring cars as gunshots, or overlook actual gunshots that happen right under their sensors. 

Has it worked in Denver?
Depends on who you ask. Axios Denver reports that ShotSpotter alerts here increased 25% from 2020 to 2021, but arrests for that same timeframe only increased 2%. Critics of ShotSpotter say the technology is overpriced, unreliable, and an excuse to over-police vulnerable communities. Councilmember Candi CdeBaca, who cast the lone no vote on the contract renewal, has questions about whether ShotSpotter is any more effective than 911 calls in alerting authorities to a situation. “It’s not substantial enough for us to keep investing in this way,” CdeBaca said.

But DPD division chief Ron Thomas argued that in the last three years there’s only been a 15% crossover between ShotSpotter alerts and 911 calls, meaning police are being alerted to gunshots they otherwise may not have known about. “At this time we are convinced of its effectiveness,” Thomas said. Axios Denver also reported that DPD recovered 120 illegal guns last year with the help of ShotSpotter.

If you want more info…
You can check out this episode of City Cast Denver from back in September when we chatted with Axios Denver reporter Alayna Alvarez, who has been closely covering the ShotSpotter conversation here in Denver.

We like to know what you think. Have thoughts to share about this topic? Write in to

— Peyton Garcia, City Cast Denver Newsletter Writer


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