GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — As the debate over the cost of the ShotSpotter gunfire detection system continues at city hall, the company’s CEO is expected to visit Grand Rapids.
A public relations representative for the company told 24 Hour News 8 that ShotSpotter CEO Ralph Clark is scheduled to be in Grand Rapids on Wednesday to meet with a ShotSpotter board member who lives in the area. Clark has also offered to sit down with local media to discuss the system.
ShotSpotter uses sensors to pick up the sounds of gunfire. Software pinpoints locations where shots were fired and separates gunfire from other sounds. But there have been mixed reviews about the system’s accuracy.
The Grand Rapids Police Department has requested $1.2 million over three years to install and run the system in four square miles of the city’s south side, where police say 60 percent of gunfire-related crimes happen.
Debate at city hall continues over the price tag and whether the money would be better spent putting more officers on the streets.
“My thought is that having officers there is better than just simply being aware of what’s happening,” said First Ward Commissioner Dave Shaffer, who lead an effort to table a vote on the system two weeks ago.
Shaffer said he hasn’t been invited to meet with Clark on Wednesday.
“I would want to see how he would prove that it would make this neighborhood a safer neighborhood,” Shaffer said.
It doesn’t appear anyone at city hall is scheduled to meet with Clark.
GRPD Chief David Rahinsky told 24 Hour News 8 he was invited to meet with Clark, but decided not to as the city commission continues to debate the issue.
Shaffer said he is interested in what Clark has to say.
“If he can look through and show through data and studies that this area would eventually be safer and that use of money would be best for that,” Shaffer said. “But I think that’s a pretty uphill battle.”
Andy Bingle, the president of the Grand Rapids Police Officers Association, told 24 Hour News 8 over the phone on Tuesday afternoon that he’s skeptical of ShotSpotter.
“I haven’t seen a plan in place yet to show exactly how people are going to be deployed to respond to these shots fired calls through ShotSpotter, but according to what the chief said today, it will require units arriving on scene and canvassing the area, knocking on doors to make sure no one has been shot or maybe trying to get additional information,” the union president said. “I can see that tying up three, four, five cars, possibly. And if cars are tied up canvassing neighborhoods for shots that have been fired for who knows what reason — some people just like to crank rounds off up in the air occasionally — it’s taking away police response from people that really need it.”
Bingle said he did research about a year ago and found that many departments have gotten rid of it because it wasn’t differentiating between sounds that are similar to shots and actual gunfire. He said he was “assured” that the software has been improved to decrease the number of false alarms.
“I don’t know that I believe that, to be honest with you,” he said.
Bingle also said he’s worried the department is getting too wrapped up in technology instead of providing more officers to deal with the public on a one-on-one basis.
“I think commissioners are in support of more bodies … but they wanted to hear that from the chief,” Bingle said. “I would think that any chief would jump at grabbing more personnel if that’s what the city commission is trying to allude to.”
He said the department has lost nearly 100 officers in about the last 15 years — mostly through attrition.
“I don’t think the citizens know we’re down 100 officers from the ’90s … because what we’ve done,” Bingle said. “We’ve maintained the same level of service.”
Rahinsky has told the commission that he plans to increase the number of officers assigned to community policing in the new budget.