ShotSpotter, a gunshot detection solution, responded to allegations that VICE published on July 26, 2021, stating that ShotSpotter alters alerts at the request of police departments.
“Recently, VICE published outrageous allegations that create a false narrative about our technology, review and forensic process that undermine the important work ShotSpotter does every day to help combat the gun violence epidemic,” ShotSpotter said. “First, ShotSpotter forensic evidence is 100 percent reliable and based entirely on the facts and science. ShotSpotter has never altered the information in a court-admissible detailed forensic report based on fitting a police narrative.”
According to ShotSpotter, the VICE article conflated the two processes the company uses for reviewing potential gunshot events: the first is the ShotSpotter gunfire alerts which are real-time notifications that detect and alert police to a specific gunfire incident; the second is a detailed forensic report prepared as courtroom evidence and for expert witness testimony.
“The goal is to quickly determine when and where gunfire has occurred within a city’s coverage area and to create a rapid and precise police response,” ShotSpotter said in regard to the real-time notifications. “They are created in less than 60 seconds using a combination of machine classification and a human reviewer’s replay of the sounds and analysis of the waveforms to make a final determination as to whether the incident is a gunshot or a non-gunshot. This process is 97 percent accurate based on customers reporting back to the company for the years 2019 and 2020.”
The company also says the article falsely twisted the words of a ShotSpotter forensic expert to suggest its accuracy rates are the product of their marketing or sales departments. According to the company, ShotSpotter's accuracy rate of 97 percent has been confirmed through an independent audit by the statistical and economics firm, Edgeworth Analytics. The 97 percent accuracy rate includes a 0.5 percent false positive rate and any false negatives.
Regarding the forensic report, the company said, “It is a court-admissible analysis of a gunfire incident. Our expert forensic analysts spend on average eight hours per incident to compile a court-admissible report using specialized tools that differ from those used for alerts. These reports are 100 percent exact on rounds fired, timing, sequence, and location of shots fired – something they can testify to in court under oath.”
ShotSpotter says the detailed forensic report is never altered because it is a completely separate process from the alerts.
“Forensic analysis may uncover additional information relative to a real-time alert such as more rounds fired or an updated timing or location upon more thorough investigation by forensic analysis,” the company continued. “We respond to requests to further investigate an incident for a forensic report only to provide the facts that we can determine and not to fit a predetermined narrative. This is about being diligent and providing the appropriate evidence and insights in the evidentiary chain of custody and nothing more. The idea that ShotSpotter ‘alters’ or ‘fabricates’ evidence in any way is an outrageous lie and would be a criminal offense. We follow the facts and data for our forensic analysis. Period.”
VICE’s article alleged that in a case in Chicago, prosecutors withdrew ShotSpotter evidence because it would not meet scientific evidentiary standards due to having been altered.
“This is 100 percent false,” ShotSpotter said. “In fact, no ShotSpotter evidence for this case was altered at any time. ShotSpotter forensic analysts evaluated the incident to create a court-admissible forensic report. Based on publicly available data and our understanding of this case, the prosecutor’s theory was that the defendant shot the victim in a car. ShotSpotter detected a gunshot in the area, and we have always publicly stated that ShotSpotter does not guarantee detection of gunshots that are in cars or inside buildings.”
According to the company, ShotSpotter evidence and expert witness testimony has been successfully admitted in 190 court cases in 20 states.
“ShotSpotter evidence has prevailed in ten successful Frye challenges and one successful Daubert challenge in courts throughout the United States,” the company said. “Our data compiled with our expert analysis help both the prosecution and defense.”
The company says the article also falsely and without any substantiation alleged that ShotSpotter fabricated evidence or altered audio files in a case in Rochester, New York.
“The audio files ShotSpotter recorded and used during the trial were secured and preserved using industry-standard forensic procedures,” the company said. “Audio files submitted as evidence were reviewed by our forensic analysts to create a court-admissible forensic report. They were never altered by ShotSpotter. We are currently engaged in a lawsuit and are vigorously defending our position.”
According to the company, it invests a great deal to train police departments on how to use the technology and how to develop a policy around its use within each department. It also shares best practices from the 120 cities using ShotSpotter. In addition, ShotSpotter rigorously trains and tests every individual reviewing real-time gunfire incidents at the company to ensure they perform at a level consistent with the company’s quality objectives.
ShotSpotter trains every individual with classroom and simulation training for up to six weeks. After this, they are tested and certified before they deploy on live incidents. Reviewers are subject to constant performance monitoring to maintain their roles, according to the company.
“ShotSpotter’s Incident Review Center (IRC) adds an additional step of human review after machine classification,” a spokesperson for the company said. “The IRC consists of two 24x7 facilities, one in Newark, Calif., and the other in Washington, D.C. Both are staffed by highly trained reviewers who play back the audio from multiple sensors, analyze the waveforms and use additional tools to determine if the sound is a gunshot or a non-gunshot. “
ShotSpotter says the VICE article is “a sad distraction from the issue at hand: addressing gun violence to keep our communities safe.”
“In recent weeks, shootings have surged in many parts of the country, robbing us of American lives,” the company said. “ShotSpotter is a tool for helping law enforcement put a stop to this senseless violence and break the cycle of the normalization of gun violence in our communities. We will not tolerate our company being maligned and will vigorously defend our work in making communities safer for all.”