New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has announced an expansion to a pilot program that uses “gun shot detector” microphones as part of an ongoing effort to more efficiently respond to crime.
Mayor De Blasio announced the expansion at a press conference at New York Police Department headquarters. The program will cost $1.5 million to install 300 listening devices around the precincts with the highest rates of gun violence. The devices are already live in the Bronx and should be operational in Brooklyn soon. The microphones are attached to lamp posts and utility poles and connected through a wireless network called ShotSpotter. New York City is the latest to join more than sixty cities with the technology, including Oakland; San Francisco; Washington, DC; and Milwaukee police.
The ShotSpotter program records noises believed to be gun shots and then relays the date, time, location, and a recording to police officers. ShotSpotter sensors are connected to thousands of cameras as part of New York City’s Domain Awareness System.
Critics believe the devices will surreptitiously record innocent individuals conversations. It has already been shown that the devices can record conversations of those walking in range of the microphones. In 2014 CBS San Francisco reported that the Oakland Police Department was able to record a dying man’s last words using the ShotSpotter system. Oakland Privacy Working Group lawyer Brian Hofer told CBS that the OPD originally denied the ShotSpotter’s ability to record voices. A similar situation took place in New Bedford, Mass., and proved that the devices do invade privacy.
As cash-strapped police departments are fighting for basic necessities like salaries for more officers, critics wonder if the system is cost efficient. As recently as 2012, police departments could purchase the SpotShotter system for a yearly subscription costing around $40,000 to $60,000 per square mile. In Oakland the system costs the police department $264,000 a year. This has lead to Oakland police discussing putting an end to the program because officers believe it to be redundant since citizens often call the police when a shooting happens. In San Francisco the program was recently expanded as recorders were added to more telephone and light poles.
ShotSpotter conducted its own study which claims that its microphones recorded 8,769 gun shot incidents in Oakland during 2012 and 2013. According to the company’s numbers, residents only reported 1,136 incidents. These statistics are part of the reason law enforcement want to continue funding these projects.
For most Americans the ShotSpotter will be another unknown, small price to pay for living in a world of relative security and contentment. For those who are witnessing the growing Surveillance State this represents another tool for the increasingly voyeuristic governments of the world. These listening devices will work great with StingRay Cellphone surveillance, drone aircraft, Automatic License Plate Readers, and a number of other tools being used by local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies. Only an informed and educated populace can resist the death march of privacy.