Does ShotSpotter work? Still no answer 9 months later

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - One of the tools Birmingham police use to listen for gunfire could be expanding.

The city says ShotSpotter is an effective tool, but they haven't shown us actual numbers that prove it. WBRC FOX6 has been asking for nine months for those figures, and we still have questions as the city considers expanding the system.

Right now, ShotSpotter detects gunfire in the city's three coverage areas on the west side, east side and in the east Kingston area.

Last year, we sent multiple records request to the city asking for proof that it works. Months later, Birmingham police showed us some of what we're asking to take a look at. The most multiple gunshot activations from 2014 to 2017 came from the west side. But the department didn't show us numbers that would show a reduction in gun-related criminal activity due to the technology. They're only saying it works, which we've heard year after year.

"Is this system worth the millions of dollars the city is spending on it?" we asked.

"I think so," Birmingham Police Department Deputy Chief Allen Hatcher said at the time.

At the time, Birmingham police told us the numbers may not paint the entire picture of whether or not the system is working. BPD then referred us back to Shot Spotter for that answer.

In 2015, Forbes magazine obtained a memo sent out by Shot Spotter to its customers saying if cities receive records request for its data to first decline to release anything, saying, "All ShotSpotter data is the sole and exclusive property of ShotSpotter."

The company says its customers are prohibited from giving out that information without ShotSpotter's permission. So we took our questions to the CEO of ShotSpotter, who just happened to be in town meeting with then-Chief A.C. Roper after we sent our records request.

"Was your meeting today already on the books with Birmingham police?" we asked.

"Yep, I mean a lot of my time gets spent traveling around cities talking to agencies and elected officials about the challenges that they're encountering with respect to their gun violence prevention.," Ralph Clark, CEO of ShotSpotter, said.

"We're now in talks with possible other vendors around how does increasing ShotSpotter look within our city as well as the price attached to it. And what do we really want from ShotSpotter," Birmingham mayor Woodfin said.

Earlier this week, Woodfin said the city is now looking at updating its camera system as well to go along with possibly expanding ShotSpotter. We asked about the current negotiations with ShotSpotter but were told "its confidential."

"We don't just want to talk about ShotSpotter alone but an overall public safety plan attached to technology where ShotSpotter is only a portion of it," Woodfin said.

We are still waiting on the city to formally respond to our records request. We'll keep pressing for answers.

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