Police accused of tampering with evidence generated by ShotSpotter surveillance system

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Analysts working for ShotSpotter, a gunshot detection system, are accused of manually altering police evidence at the behest of officers, according to court documents reviewed by Motherboard. Evidence from cases in Chicago, Illinois and New York State suggests that some officers are “looking for evidence that supports their account of the events,” Motherboard reports. More than 100 cities across the country are said to use this technology.

A Chicago case involves Safarain Herring, 25, who was shot in the head and was dropped off at a local hospital on May 31, 2020 by a man named Michael Williams. The herring died two days later. Motherboard reports:

Chicago police eventually arrested Williams, 64, and charged him with murder (Williams claims Herring was shot in a drive-by shooting). Key evidence in the case is surveillance footage showing Williams’ car stopped on the 6300 block of South Stony Island Avenue at 11:46 p.m., the time and location where police say they know Herring was shot.

How did they know that was where the shooting took place? Police said ShotSpotter, a surveillance system that uses hidden microphone sensors to detect the sound and location of gunfire, has generated an alert for this time and location.

However, court documents claim that this evidence was tampered with. The motherboard continues:

That night, 19 ShotSpotter sensors detected a percussion sound at 11:46 p.m. and determined the location to be 5700 South Lake Shore Drive, one mile from the site where prosecutors say Williams committed the murder, according to a petition filed by Williams’ public defender. The company’s algorithms initially classified the sound as fireworks.

But after the 11:46 p.m. alert, a ShotSpotter analyst manually overruled the algorithms and “reclassified” the sound as a gunshot. Then, months later and after the ‘post-processing’, another ShotSpotter analyst changed the coordinates of the alert to a location on South Stony Island Drive, near where Williams’ car was seen. through the camera.

“Through this humane method, ShotSpotter’s output in this case has been dramatically transformed from data that did not support any criminal charges to data that is now the centerpiece of the murder case of the prosecution against Mr. Williams, “the public defender said. in the motion considered by Motherboard.

This model of analysts altering evidence at the behest of officers appears to be a common occurrence based on the Herring case, as well as other trials in Chicago and New York State. The ramifications of this could be huge for ShotSpotter in Chicago, “where technology generates an average of 21,000 alerts each year,” according to Motherboard.

Some of the biggest questions about ShotSpotter are about the technology and how it actually works, “in terms of sensor accuracy and the overall effect of the system on gun crime,” according to Motherboard. So far, the company has not authorized any independent testing of its algorithms, and any claims of accuracy by ShotSpotter have been generated by marketers, not scientists, the company admitted to court.

Chicago, according to Motherboard, is one of the most important cities for ShotSpotter, and is quickly becoming “a battleground for its use.” The city’s $ 33 million contract with the company expires this summer, and city officials must decide whether or not to renew it.

Civil rights activists are call to chicago abandon technology, which they say endangers the lives of blacks and browns. “These tools send more police to black and Latin neighborhoods”, Allyx goodwin, an organizer from Chicago with the Center for Action on Race and Economy, one of the groups leading the campaign, told Motherboard. “Every ShotSpotter alert puts blacks and Latinxes at risk for interactions with the police. This is what happened to Adam Toledo.”’


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