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Celia Jiménez here, thinking about a topic that caught my attention: The Salinas Police Department’s potential renewal of ShotSpotter, a system that locates and alerts officers to gunfire.

Today the Salinas City Council could vote to renew this service, an annual subscription for which costs $455,000. City staff is recommending the renewal for the period Dec. 14, 2021 though Dec. 13, 2022. However, the staff recommendation doesn’t include any data showing the benefits of this system. The council will also vote on approving a two-year lease ($52,500) of 20 automated license plate reader cameras from Flock Group, Inc.

Not everyone is in favor of renewing ShotSpotter—local organizations such as Agents of Change, Community Before Cops and Reinvest Salinas are encouraging people on social media to submit comments against the renewal. “This system does not prevent crime and is proven to be ineffective, wasting $455,000 a year,” says the post the groups shared on Instagram. Also on social media, Agents of Change said ShotSpotter “has not proven to prevent violence.” The post seeks suggestions for what else could be done with that money to benefit the community. 

A recent study by Northwestern University’s MacArthur Justice Center reviewed ShotSpotter deployments in Chicago from July 1, 2019 to April 14, 2021. It found 89 percent of the alerts weren’t gun-related crimes and 86 percent didn’t report any crime at all. However Ray Lopez, 15th Ward representative in Chicago, told ABC7 that the system, which uses acoustic sensors to identify gunshots and provides police and other law enforcement agencies the location the shots were fired, helps make up for officer shortages. This is a situation Salinas PD is familiar with, too.

On its website, ShotSpotter claims to save lives, reduce shootings, highlight underreported gunfire and help to collect evidence. 

The system as used by the Salinas PD last month during the two shootings that occured in North Salinas, near the El Gabilan Library where a homicide was committed and police quickly arrived. (The story quickly made headlines, because the police shot a suspect upon arriving.) Both Salinas PD and the Monterey County District Attorney's Office were gathering information about the shootings. Salinas Police Chief Roberto Filice says that thanks to ShotSpotter, officers were able to detain the suspect in that case and many others. “We were able to put a case together,” Filice says, adding they are taking criminals off the streets and helping injured people they find on the scene. 

Filice says that last year there were over 250 shots fired alerts, and corresponding 911 calls for less than 20 percent of these. “Sounds travels, so when people call 911 it doesn’t necessarily mean they know the exact location,” Filice adds.

On social media, the Salinas Police Officers Association is asking the community to show support for the system: “ShotSpotter is an invaluable tool that assists officers and medical response to victims of gunshots without delay,” the union posted on its Facebook page. They also argue that approving this agenda item would align with the city’s strategic plan goal of public safety: “maintaining existing community policing policies and to provide emergency medical services in a cost effective and responsive manner.”

The Council meeting started at 4pm—you can watch it online on the city’s Youtube Channel.

-Celia Jiménez, staff writer, celia@mcweekly.com

P.S. The Monterey County Gives! campaign is currently underway through Dec. 31. Learn about the critical work and Big Ideas of 170 local nonprofits—and please donate to support their efforts. 

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