ShotSpotter continues spying on Indianapolis

In October this past year, the Indianapolis City-County Council allocated $323 million dollars of tax money to the IMPD. For those wondering how IMPD plans to spend this record funding in 2024, their working group has already offered some insight: they recommend spending upwards of $730,000 on surveillance technology that does not work. 

ShotSpotter, a gunshot detection system, was piloted by IMPD on the eastside from 2021 to 2022. ShotSpotter reportedly functions by sending police gunshot alerts via sensors scattered throughout the area. This type of technology advertises that through their sensors’ constant surveillance, police can quicken their response times and address emergencies more frequently. What Indianapolis found, consistent with many cities before it, is that having ShotSpotter did not lead to an increase in public safety, nor did it contribute to solving cases. In Indianapolis, only 8.2% of gunshot detections between ShotSpotter and Flock, another surveillance service, led to the collection of any evidence at all. 

In addition to being ineffective, ShotSpotter is also expensive. ShotSpotter operates as a “software-as-a-service” model, meaning that they place hundreds of sensors around the city (often concentrated in “high-crime” areas) and charge the city for the software and applications that give police access to the alerts. In 2021, IMPD deemed it not “fiscally responsible” to continue with ShotSpotter’s services because it would cost an estimated $250,000 to place sensors and another $200,000 to maintain them annually. Over 2,500 active sensors were scattered in eastside neighborhoods during the initial trial and IMPD hasn’t moved to remove them since then.

IMPD initially claimed that it would be impossible to collect the sensors because they did not know where they were placed. That was resolved in February 2024, when a Wired Magazine article identified every ShotSpotter sensor around the country. By leaving their sensors established after contracts end, ShotSpotter has been able to offer summaries to police, evidently unprompted. ShotSpotter can do so because even without city contracts, the company continues to passively collect surveillance data. There is seemingly no consequence for constant surveillance of neighborhoods by a private company. 

For community members, ShotSpotter is an invitation for heightened police activity in their neighborhoods that can put people in that community in danger. In 2021, Chicago police killed thirteen-year-old Adam Toledo while responding to a ShotSpotter alert, moving Mayor Brandon Johnson to abandon the surveillance system. The reality is that having a gunshot surveillance system does not prompt the police to intervene earlier or more effectively on any significant level. The constant surveillance of communities does not increase public safety or contribute to safer neighborhoods. Gunshot surveillance systems excite police, prompt them into neighborhoods, and put those communities at risk.

We, the Party for Socialism and Liberation – Indianapolis, reject the idea that new technology in any form will fix policing or public safety under capitalism. This transfer of hundreds of thousands of dollars from workers to ShotSpotter has not prevented violence. Real crime prevention requires we address the root causes of crime, which include poverty and lack of meaningful options for working and oppressed people. We need decent jobs, affordable living conditions, healthcare, healthy food, and a city that is easy to navigate by walking or public transportation. No amount of police, or police gadgets, can resolve the outcomes of poverty.

Featured photo: A low-angle shot of a wall-mounted security camera. Photo credit: Pexels, available through Creative Commons.