ShotSpotter technology is a rapid identification and response system used in ninety American cities that is designed to detect gunshots and dispatch police. ShotSpotter is one of many powerful surveillance tools used by local police departments to purportedly help fight crime, but they often do so at the expense of infringing upon privacy rights and civil liberties. This Article expands the conversation about ShotSpotter technology considerably by examining the adjacent Fourth Amendment issues emanating from its use. For example, law enforcement increasingly relies on ShotSpotter to create reasonable suspicion where it does not exist. In practice, the use of ShotSpotter increases the frequency of police interactions, which also increases the risk of Black Americans becoming the victims of police brutality or harassment. Such racialized policing facilitates the status quo of violence and bias against Black Americans.
This Article uses recent cases from the D.C., the Fourth, and Seventh Circuits as a foundation to argue that officers arriving on the scene to investigate a gunshot sound they were alerted of via ShotSpotter technology should not be allowed to use the gunshot sound as the basis of reasonable suspicion and subsequent search and seizure. At the heart of this Article is the argument that the use of ShotSpotter technology is unconstitutional under City of Indianapolis v. Edmond because it is not used for a specific law enforcement purpose beyond preventing crime generally. Under the reasoning and result of Edmond, law enforcement is prohibited from using ShotSpotters unless officers have reasons for individualized suspicion.
Spending more money on ineffective ShotSpotters placed in “high crime” neighborhoods across America is not the answer to reducing gun violence. As seen with Oakland’s successful Ceasefire program, there are innovative ways to simultaneously build trust in communities and curb gun violence. Indeed, properly designed group violence reduction strategies will foster and maintain dignity for participants in a program tailored to saves lives and promote community healing.
“Bang!”: ShotSpotter Gunshot Detection Technology, Predictive Policing, and Measuring Terry’s Reach,
U. Mich. J. L. Reform
Available at: https://repository.law.umich.edu/mjlr/vol55/iss4/3