LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Little Rock police are pushing to keep a tool that claims to help prevent and solve violent crimes, though critics question its effectiveness.
ShotSpotters have been used in Little Rock since December 2018. The devices actively listen for and report gunfire so police can be dispatched immediately. According to the manufacturer, officers are called within a minute of gunshots being heard.
Little Rock accepted a grant to install and run the system for two years, and now police want the city to pay to keep the devices.
The FOX 16 Investigates team looked at hundreds of police reports and found while ShotSpotters are listening, they’re doing very little at leading police to an arrest.
POLICE POINT TO EARLY SUCCESS
In January 2019, police were called to 29th Street after a ShotSpotter detected a shooting. Officers found Wiley Carr’s body. The 43-year-old had been shot multiple times, but on a street filled with homes, no one called for help.
“The ShotSpotter is the reason why they knew, because no one called 911,” Carr’s wife, Courtney Colemon, recalled. “Whoever took him doesn’t know who they took from us. You ripped my soul from me, from our family.”
At the time, ShotSpotters were new and they had only been around the city for a month. Carr was the first victim the devices helped find, and police were quick to praise.
“I think last night it definitely paid off. We got to there and we were able to preserve that scene, to get that evidence to start going forward,” Little Rock Police Sgt. Eric Barnes said the day after the shooting.
While the device helped police start the investigation quickly, two years later, not much has changed in the case. Police still haven’t caught Carr’s killer.
“What is the purpose of the ShotSpotter? It did nothing,” Colemon questioned. “Yes, it let them know someone fired some shots, but it didn’t save him. It’s two years in and we have absolutely no answers.”
Carr’s case is far from the systems benefits touted on ShotSpotter’s website, which include to, “locate more witnesses” and “identify shooters faster.”
That’s what Little Rock Police sold to the Board of Directors when they unanimously voted for the technology.
Based on the records we uncovered, the system is not meeting expectations. Little Rock Police declined multiple requests for comment. The department said it does not track results or success rates with ShotSpotters
FOX 16 News pulled police records of every time a ShotSpotter heard gunfire starting with the system’s first day on the job, December 19, 2018.
FOX16 asked police for records of every time a ShotSpotter led to a report, an unfounded call, and if any arrests were made.
Since then, the devices have picked up 2,026 suspected shootings. Of those, police made eight arrests at the scene, and were only able to list a suspect in their initial report seven other times. That equals a less than one percent chance of a ShotSpotter response leading to a suspect.
The numbers show more trends. FOX 16 found the majority of times a ShotSpotter detected gunfire, officers never filed a report.
When officers did take a report, most had the suspect listed as “unknown” and for evidence, officers wrote “negative results” or “no signs of criminal or suspicious activity.”
Sam Klepper, Senior Vice President of marketing and product strategy for ShotSpotter said the company isn’t tracking results in Little Rock, but he believes the devices work.
“It tends to be that agencies kind of hit their stride in the first couple years of just using the system, responding to alerts, getting that to be a best practice and being efficient about it, and the analytical parts start to catch up after that,” he explained.
Klepper added that he believes arrests aren’t the best measure of ShotSpotter’s success, instead pointing to the system’s speed and ability to alert officers when no one calls 911.
“When you can show up so fast, there’s more a likelihood of the perpetrator being there or nearby. Over time I think what happens is that they know the cops are coming fast and they are not on the scene,” he said. “That’s where the evidence either through the witnesses being there, through shell casings, through the guns that might be there, that’s where the system becomes extremely valuable in the investigative part of it.”
CITY HALL REACTS
City Board member Ken Richardson voted for ShotSpotters, so FOX 16 showed him the numbers and asked what his vote would be today.
“I don’t know,” Richardson answered. “Based on the information you just shared with me, it makes me wonder if it warrants, pun intended, warrants a need to have [ShotSpotters].”
Richardson lives in and represents southeast Little Rock, That area is home to the most ShotSpotters in the city, picked because the violence on these streets isn’t a secret.
“To hear the number and type of weapons we have in our city, it’s like you’re in a war zone,” Richardson said.
With that in mind, he plans to ask police for a report analyzing ShotSpotter results, something the department told FOX 16 it hasn’t done.
“I think they need to be more transparent. I think the information needs to be shared to justify the city funding ShotSpotters and using taxpayer dollars,” Richardson added.
While ShotSpotters started off funded by federal grants, the city is now at a crossroads. The initial contract expired, and the police department wants city hall to approve a new contract where taxpayers will have to foot half of the bill at a cost of about $150,000.
“I’ve heard from a couple colleagues who want to increase the numbers,” Richardson said. “We need to be honest with ourselves and make sure this is not something that’s symbolic, something to say that we’re doing it just because we’re doing it.”
FAMILIES LEFT WAITING
Without seeing the payoff, families caught in the crossfire keep pleading for help.
For Colemon, as more time passes, she fears her husband’s case will go cold.
“Somebody had to have seen something,” Colemon cried. “A car, somebody walking, something in order to get someone to come to justice for his murder.”
Colemon says she can’t stop wondering if the gunshots that ripped her family apart while ShotSpotter listened really just fell on deaf ears.
“It’s [ShotSpotter] there, but what do we find out in the end? Does it take, five, 10, or 20 years? Or do we never find out?” she asked.
Little Rock’s Board of Directors is set to vote on the resolution to keep the devices on February 16.
Here is the resolution they are considering: