Abolition Working Group

Stop Shotspotter! Public Comment on Thurs. Nov. 18 at 2 pm

We are organizing community members to participate in public comment at the next Public Safety Committee meeting on Thursday, November 18 at 2 pm to ask questions of the City Council and HPD re: the Shotspotter pilot program, a wasteful and ineffective surveillance technology that endangers Black and brown communities and increases interactions with high-alert policing. Let’s demand the city invest in safer communities by providing aid and services that prevent harm!

Sign up for public comment

Who Is My City Council Member (District)?

Talking Points and Demands – Script #1

“Hi, my name is [NAME] and I’m a resident of [DISTRICT]. I’m calling in to ensure that the City Council and public are aware of ShotSpotter’s ineffectiveness, wastefulness, and endangerment of Black and brown communities, before purchasing this new technology. Shotspotter technology does not prevent gun violence. 

[Choose one of the following points to provide evidence]

  • The City of Chicago’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) found that “ShotSpotter alerts rarely produce documented evidence of a gun-related crime, investigatory stop, or recovery of a firearm.” Source
  • The MacArthur Justice Center at Northwestern University School of Law found that:
    • 89% of ShotSpotter deployments in Chicago turned up no gun-related crime; 
    • 86% of ShotSpotter deployments led to no report of any crime at all; 
    • During the 21.5 months studied, there were more than 40,000 dead-end ShotSpotter deployments; 
    • On an average day in Chicago, there are more than 61 ShotSpotter-initiated police deployments that turn up no evidence of any crime, let alone gun crime.  Source
  • In 2017, San Antonio canceled their ShotSpotter program, finding it did not reduce gun violence and was a waste of money and resources. Source

ShotSpotter analysts and the police have been accused of manually altering data provided by the technology to create the evidence that supports their narratives that we need more police (Source). 

Harris County pays $260,000 a year to cover four square miles, smaller than the Houston pilot area. I would rather see those funds go toward community programs that prevent gun violence from happening in the first place, instead of creating deadly and ineffective reactions to it. 

Gun violence is a significant issue for Houston communities, and ShotSpotter’s almost exclusive use in Black and Latinx communities sends more police to already overpoliced communities. It increases the number of unnecessary interactions between community members and officers who are on high alert, expecting gun violence. 

We do not need more policing. We need solutions to help people who are struggling financially through direct financial and housing aid and mental health support. I’m calling to ask that you say no to the Shotspotter pilot, stop HPD’s use of surveillance technology, and invest in safer communities by providing aid and services like MCOT, the Gun Violence Interruption Program, and HART.”

Talking Points and Demands – Script #2

“Hi, my name is [NAME] and I’m a resident of [DISTRICT]. I’m calling in response to Commander Martin’s report out at the October 21 meeting of this committee. I’d like to request that Commander Martin respond to the following questions before the next meeting of this committee: 

[Choose three of the following questions to ask]

  • How much has HPD spent on the Shotspotter program to-date, and how much has HPD spent per arrest?
  • How many of the incidents resulting in “Reports Made” or arrests were also reported through calls to 9-1-1?
  • On Page 7 of the report – Why is there such a wide gap between the number of reports made (20% of alerts) and charges filed (3% of alerts)?
  • How much officer time is lost when 80% of alerts through Shotspotter don’t even produce a report? How much money does this 80% of calls cost the department as a result? 
  • Are officers responding to Shotspotter alerts trained to expect that guns are on the premises? How many non-gunshot related arrests have occurred as a result of a Shotspotter alert? 
  • Outside of the ShotSpotter vendor’s corporate guarantee of 90% accuracy, what percent of alerts can HPD confirm were actual gunfire?
  • Can HPD confirm that of the $5,000 cost for Shotspotter per square mile, approximately $4,000 corresponds to incidents where gunfire is not confirmed on the scene? 
  • Can HPD confirm that of the 47 Shotspotter alerts per square mile, approximately 36 correspond to incidents where gunfire is not confirmed on the scene? 
  • Can HPD confirm that there’s currently only 1 arrest per month resulting from the pilot?
  • Does HPD have a code of ethics for the use of policing technology?
  • Given that Shotspotter owns all of the data coming from listening devices, does HPD have rules in place to ensure that Shotspotter is not selling our personal data to third parties? 

I ask that you reject the Shotspotter pilot and commit to investing more deeply in alternative violence interruption or violence prevention programs. If you do choose to proceed, I ask that you hold a series of community meetings to openly share information about the effectiveness of the program and surveillance and privacy risks. We want real safety, not more police.”

Neighbors Against Spying Campaign

What are we fighting for? 

We’re working to pressure the Houston Police Department to cancel its surveillance partnership with Amazon Ring, which allows police to access residents’ Ring cameras without probable cause or any warrant. The company has quietly secured over 1,600 partnerships with law enforcement agencies across the country, including the Houston Police Department, allowing them to tap into the personal Ring Doorbell Cameras of everyday citizens, effectively creating an unchecked, unregulated spy network. 

We’re not only working to end the Houston Police Department’s engagement with Amazon Ring. HPD also uses other harmful technologies like StingRay cell site simulators and feeds from neighborhood license plate readers to stream into its Real Time Crime Center. HPD keeps its operations secret. That’s why this effort is part of the Abolition Working Group’s mission to defund, disarm, and dismantle HPD overall. 

Sign the petition to end HPD’s participation in the Neighbors Program

Why stop surveillance?

  • People can approve police access to bulk footage or live streams of their Ring cameras without ever seeing a warrant. Neighbors Ring cameras put other neighbors at risk. One person accepting HPD’s request to view their camera footage could jeopardize the safety or privacy rights of their neighbors. HPD’s Neighbors Partnership turns neighbors against one another and enables racist policing practices. Police in some cities like Jackson, Mississippi are already beginning to livestream footage from Ring cameras for invasive and oppressive policing. [Source]
  • Harris County decided against the Neighbors Partnership because they get enough video by request. Without the Neighbors Partnership, police can still request video footage directly from closed loop security systems. The County declined participation in the Partnership citing concerns that the partnership would be a violation of privacy. [Source]
  • Cameras can be used with technologies like facial recognition, which can misidentify Black and Asian people. The National Institutes of Science and Technology have found that face recognition technology is flawed and biased, misidentifying Black and Asian people up to 100 times more than White people. At a time when countless calls are being made to address the racial and economic biases in the criminal justice and legal systems, quietly taking advantage of the safety concerns of everyday citizens to create a burgeoning spy network is a step in the wrong direction. [Source]
  • Ring cameras haven’t proven effective at reducing crime. “In West Valley City, Utah, officials performed a test in two neighborhoods of similar size and levels of crime. Both neighborhoods saw a drop in crime, according to the MIT Technology Review story, but the results were surprising: the neighborhood without the devices saw a more significant drop.” [Source]
  • HPD is building toward a surveillance state. HPD uses StingRay cell-site simulators to invade privacy and collects camera footage from neighborhood license plate readers, all of which may support the Real Time Crime Center. The Real Time Crime Center, which continuously monitors all priority one and two calls-for-service throughout the city to maintain situational awareness and keep the Chief of Police and executive staff informed about emerging incidents. The City has hidden public records about the footage being used at the Real Time Crime Center. “This is a level of surveillance that, frankly, has usually been associated with totalitarian regimes and not a free society,” said Kevin Welch, president of the Austin branch of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. [Source, Source, Source]

Join the fight for abolition

DSA’s Abolition Working Group meets on the third Thursday of every month. We are a member of the Houston Abolitionist Collective and actively support overall efforts to abolish policing, jails, prisons, and detention centers. Email abolition@houstondsa.org to get involved or attend our monthly meetings.