PORTLAND, Ore — Portland leaders are considering contracting with ShotSpotter, a gunshot detection technology company, to help the city fight back against rising gun violence.
While the city reviews an oversight group's recommendation of ShotSpotter and weighs whether the technology be effective, equitable and worth it, city leaders will also need to decide how ShotSpotter alerts may be used in criminal prosecution of gun violence cases.
In Chicago, the use of ShotSpotter as evidence in a murder case is playing out through the legal system.
Michael Williams, a 65-year-old Chicago man, is suing the city after he was arrested and imprisoned for a year on a murder charge before a judge dismissed the case after prosecutors said there was insufficient evidence.
The lawsuit, filed last week by the MacArthur Justice Center at Northwestern University's law school on behalf of Williams and others, alleges the gunshot detection tech is "unreliable" and the plaintiffs are also seeking a court order ending the use of ShotSpotter in Chicago.
ShotSpotter is not a named defendant in the lawsuit.
On its website, ShotSpotter says its evidence and witness testimony has been successfully admitted in over 200 court cases in over 20 states.
The company's statement on the usage of alerts in prosecution is published under an explanation via its page of responses to "false claims."
A judge dismissed ShotSpotter's defamation lawsuit against Vice in June.
So, if Portland decides to try out ShotSpotter, how would prosecutors use ShotSpotter alert evidence in court?
Focused Intervention Team Community Oversight Group (FITCOG), the oversight group that recommended ShotSpotter to the mayor's office, stressed caution in criminal prosecution in its report:
"Relying solely on technology and algorithms can create harmful and costly mistakes, as made evident by the case of Michael Williams in Chicago," the report says.
FITCOG recommends that ShotSpotter data be made "in addition to, not in lieu of" other criminal, forensic and investigative evidence in the prosecution of gun violence cases.
"Specifically, a series of legal rules and guidelines should be created to protect against ShotSpotter data being considered the only admissible evidence needed to prosecute such cases," the report says.
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and city council will decide whether the city moves forward with the oversight group's recommendation of ShotSpotter technology.