Already monitored by cameras from federal law enforcement agencies, the Central District could soon also be outfitted with technology designed to pinpoint gunfire and alert police to gun violence. Mayor Ed Murray Thursday announced his proposal for a test of gunshot detection technology in the city in “neighborhoods most impacted by gun violence, including the Central District and Rainier Valley.”
“We have seen gunshot locators work effectively in other cities,” Murray said in a statement. “We will work with our neighborhoods to gauge their interest in participating in the pilot project, as we protect the privacy of all residents.”
The mayor’s office will send legislation to the City Council to enable the pilot. A federal grant will pay for the project. The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has been lobbying cities across the country to deploy the system which uses microphones and sometimes cameras to collect sound and a computer system to pinpoint its location and alert police.
The mayor’s office outlined Seattle’s ongoing going violence:
Since the beginning of the year, 144 incidents of shots fired have been reported in Seattle. Five people have been killed and another 24 have been injured. Of the 69 people who have been assaulted by someone with a firearm, more than half of all victims are under the age of 30 and are African American.
During that same period in 2015, 154 incidents of shots fired were reported, resulting in two deaths and 27 injuries.
Officials say the Rainier Valley, the Central District and in South Park are the areas where most shots have been concentrated. “Shots are most frequently reported in the evening hours on Fridays and Saturdays,” according to the announcement.
The microphones — and possibly cameras — will join surveillance cameras installed around the Central District in response to past gun violence and drug crimes in the area. Last summer, federal agents confirmed to CHS that they had quietly installed surveillance cameras along 23rd Ave in the CD. In a July community meeting, Murray said the city was still in the process of “looking at” deploying advanced surveillance cameras and also promised that, unlike past use of cameras in Seattle, the process to deploy the technology would be fully public. Speaking before ATF representatives, Murray and SPD Chief Kathleen O’Toole were both apparently unaware of the agency’s camera plan at the time.
The deployment of the gunshot detection technology appears to be off to a more public start with debate set to follow as the legislation moves to the City Council. Some have criticized the systems for their privacy issues, some for their poor results.
Meanwhile, closer coordination with federal agencies has paid off for SPD. Chief O’Toole said last summer that the FBI and ATF formed a new partnership with the department. O’Toole said the Puget Sound Regional Crime Gun Taskforce –- a partnership between Seattle Police, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the Washington State Patrol crime lab — improved Seattle’s ability to analyze crime scenes.
Where the proposed detection technology will be installed probably won’t be determined for months but it is unlikely we’ll see it on Capitol Hill. Following last November’s drive-by shooting at Broadway and Pike, officials said that the detection technology wasn’t effective in noisy city environments like Capitol Hill.