Inconvenient Truths Could Work Against ShotSpotter in Lawsuit Against Vice News

After spending all that money, is there any feel for how much violence has been reduced? (Virginia Beach Police Department/Facebook)

U.S.A. – -( “Vice Hit With $300M Suit From Controversial Surveillance Company,” The Daily Beast reported Monday. “ShotSpotter alleged in a new complaint that Vice ‘deliberately’ misrepresented the efficacy and implications of their hidden microphone surveillance systems.”

That shouldn’t surprise gun owners. Going to Vice for accurate unbiased gun-related information is typically a fool’s errand (although occasionally, one of their writers makes an honest attempt to get uncensored pro-gun views aired). But forget anything remotely two-sided coming out of The Daily Beast.

That said, as far as ShotSpotter is concerned, it’s fair to ask what could possibly be misrepresented when assessing the value and effectiveness of the acoustic locator technology. The system is being sold to law enforcement departments throughout the land, ostensibly to fight and solve crimes by rapidly deploying police to scenes of shootings.

For his part, ShotSpotter CEO Ralph Clark sees not just misrepresentation, but actionable damages.

“We want to correct the record and we want to hold them to account for their defamatory campaign which has caused damage, compromising future contracts, damaging business relationships, and our reputation,” he declared. “It has also damaged our company’s enterprise value causing our stock price to fall.”

The problem is, Vice is not alone in its negative assessments, and the list of those who could be sued for reporting similar conclusions may not work in the company’s favor.  Here are a few cases in point, some proving that questioning the system’s value is hardly new:

“ShotSpotter Alerts Police To Lots Of Gunfire, But Produces Few Tangible Results,” Forbes published back in 2016. “The majority of ShotSpotter alerts lead to police closing the incident with words such as ‘unfounded,’ ‘unable to locate’ or ‘gone on arrival,’ law enforcement jargon for: ‘We didn’t find anything.’”

“But former Boston police lieutenant Thomas Nolan questions whether the money spent on the technology could better be used to hire more police,” a 2009 Associated Press article reported. “‘The cops I talk to on the street think ShotSpotter is a joke,’ said Nolan, associate criminal justice professor at Boston University.”

“But the system is not dead-on accurate, meaning police must be circumspect about how they use the new trove of data, warn civil liberty advocates,” The Christian Science Monitor noted in 2007, along with a qualifying assessment of some of the reported system “successes”:

“[N]one of the arrested felons and confiscated items were necessarily involved in the original shooting. In one case, police arrived to find a car speeding off. Police pursued, then apprehended a suspect – a convicted felon – who tried to flee. In the car was a loaded semiautomatic pistol. In two other cases, police arrived to find people loitering. On each occasion, they took names and found a person wanted on a warrant.”

Such assessments are not only limited to Vice’s reporting but have been longstanding, so it’s fair for taxpayers to wonder why departments are spending big bucks to acquire and use the system.  The answers could be that violence in urban areas is out of control, authorities have no idea how to get a handle on it, they’re under pressure to “do something,” they get plenty of media cheerleading when they do, and if the money is there, they’re going to spend it so they can keep coming back for more. Besides, it’s not like they really know what else to do with it or would be allowed to if they did.

Plus they get to operate in exclusive circles with people who have connections and “ins.” Here’s another case in point:

“Law Enforcement Industry Veteran David H. Chipman Joins as Senior Vice President, U.S. Public Safety Solutions … Chipman will expand SST’s leadership in partnering with cities nationwide to fight gun violence and related crime through the use of its ShotSpotter gunfire data and intelligence. As an experienced law enforcement veteran, Chipman served in numerous executive and field agent roles at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF) for more than 25 years. While at the ATF, he developed, implemented and evaluated firearms violence reduction strategies aimed at making America’s neighborhoods safer.”

“Aimed at.” It doesn’t say he actually reduced any violence, does it?

At the risk of the pit bull lawyers at “Clare Locke, the law firm that has become notorious in media circles for its aggressive counsel in defamation cases against media companies” taking exception with me, may I just say his and ShotSpotter’s intentions-based goals appear to mesh?

Except perhaps that’s not fair. A new development just came in over the transom.

“Man who fired gun in Virginia Beach arrested with help from newly expanded ShotSpotter tech, police say,” WAVY-TV 10 reported Tuesday. “In a press release, police said they responded to the 400 block of Cottage Way just after 4:30 a.m. after receiving an alert from ShotSpotter.”

It might be more impressive if a search on the man’s name didn’t show that’s where he currently lives, so it’s not like the arrest came after a drive-by shooting or a running gun battle where the perps would be miles away by the time the VBPD arrived on the scene. That and what does “with the help of” really mean, and did anything else immediately take place after the ShotSpotter alert? No other resident or neighbor calls or anything…?

We don’t know – yet – because Virginia Beach’s ePRO (Electronic Police Reports Online) system doesn’t have anything on the incident at this writing and advises “Allow at least 14 days from the report date for data entry or scanning into our records management systems.”

But say any suspicions that the whole matter didn’t safely resolve thanks to ShotSpotter prove unfounded, and that they deserve the appreciation of a grateful community for taking a menace to public safety off the streets. Except he won’t be in long on “reckless handling of a firearm and discharging a firearm within city limits” charges.

In April the city spent $240,000 to install the system in the Oceanfront area. Now it’s in the Cottage Way area. Nearby Newport News got it in 2019. For that kind of money, it’s not unreasonable to ask how many really bad actors have been removed from the region since the installations, how many captures were attributable to ShotSpotter, and how much smoke and noise is going on to justify expenditures.

About David Codrea:

David Codrea is the winner of multiple journalist awards for investigating/defending the RKBA and a long-time gun owner rights advocate who defiantly challenges the folly of citizen disarmament. He blogs at “The War on Guns: Notes from the Resistance,” is a regularly featured contributor to Firearms News, and posts on Twitter: @dcodrea and Facebook.

David Codrea

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