Mayor proposes gunshot detection pilot program

Mayor Ed Murray has heard from communities that the City must take new actions to improve response to shots fired in neighborhoods most impacted by gun violence, including the Central District and Rainier Valley.

Today, on Gun Violence Awareness Day, the mayor is launching a process to bring an acoustic gunshot detection pilot program to the City of Seattle. The mayor will also work with the Seattle City Council to require that all surplus firearms from the Seattle Police Department are only sold to other law enforcement agencies.

“While Seattle remains a very safe city, we owe it to our young people to explore all technology tools that can save a life or take a gun off the streets,” said Mayor Murray. “We have seen gunshot locators work effectively in other cities. We will work with our neighborhoods to gauge their interest in participating in the pilot project, as we protect the privacy of all residents.”

Gunshot locators actively listen for gunshots and detect the exact location where guns are fired. Unlike reports from nearby residents who may be uncertain, these systems’ advanced technology reliably report when and where the shots were fired. A video camera attached to the system is activated to capture the incident. Law enforcement authorities are notified immediately and a police officer can be dispatched to the vicinity without delay.

The mayor will send the City Council legislation required to implement a pilot project.

“At almost every community meeting where I have discussed installing an acoustic gunshot locator system, I have received overwhelming positive feedback,” said Council President Bruce Harrell. “I want to make it crystal clear we will work thoroughly with privacy advocates on the operational and data management protocols to ensure the public’s privacy and civil liberties are protected.”

“My constituents city-wide have expressed concern over safety, as well as an interest in innovations intended to keep communities safe,” said Councilmember M. Lorena González, Chair of the Safe Communities committee.  “Given the increased trends in shots fired, gun violence injuries and gun-related deaths in Seattle, I stand firmly behind initiatives to reduce senseless violence. I look forward to working with Mayor Murray on his efforts to increase our City’s security.”

Last year, community members, including the United Clergy and the Urban League, urged the city to consider technology solutions that may help Seattle Police Department respond to shots fired and identify persons of interest.

“We know that gunshot detection systems have helped reduce gun violence in other cities,” said Rev. Harriett Walden, founder, Mothers for Police Accountability. “It’s time that we give this technology a try in Seattle. We owe it to our children to take every step possible to keep them safe.”

Community feedback will be critical to designing the system, deciding where it is deployed, and defining how it functions. Working with the community, the City will to use its race and social justice toolkit during the assessment of the pilot program. The City will engage with civil liberties advocates and ensure that it complies with the City’s existing privacy policy.

“I know from experience that technology, when paired with prevention, intervention and enforcement strategies, can effectively support public safety efforts,” said Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole. “An automated gunshot detection pilot program can help our officers and detectives working to reduce gun violence in our city by improving shots fired response times and identifying shooters.”

Since the beginning of the year, 144 incidents of shots fired have been reported in Seattle. Five people have been killed and another 24 have been injured. Of the 69 people who have been assaulted by someone with a firearm, more than half of all victims are under the age of 30 and are African American.

During that same period in 2015, 154 incidents of shots fired were reported, resulting in two deaths and 27 injuries.

This year, concentrated areas of shots reported include the Rainier Valley, the Central District and in South Park.  Shots are most frequently reported in the evening hours on Fridays and Saturdays.

For the first three months of this year, Seattle police have seized 438 guns, an increase of 77 in the first 5 months of 2015.

The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has issued a Request for Proposals to gather interest from potential contractors who could construct the system. If deployed, the system would be paid for with a federal grant.

Similar systems are deployed in at least 67 other cities across the nation. Law enforcement agencies report instant notification of gunfire, high accuracy of reported locations, and reduced police response times.

The mayor will also send legislation to Council that requires surplus Seattle Police Department firearms can only be sold to another law enforcement agency. Under existing City policy, when a Seattle police officer turns in a service weapon, it cannot be resold to in the State of Washington.

“Speaking as a mother and as a proud Grandmother Against Gun Violence I believe we all must do everything in our power–politically and personally — to create safer communities, which means championing safe gun ownership,” said Councilmember Bagshaw. “Mayor Murray and I have worked tirelessly to leverage our purchasing power to push for the most responsible firearm policies being practiced via the firearm resolution.”

“Yet again, Washington State and Seattle are on the cutting edge of common sense, just and visionary social policy,” said Rabbi Daniel Weiner of Temple De Hirsch Sinai. “The prioritizing of citizen safety and freedom from fear over the influence and financial inducements of the gun industry and their lobby reflects more than good governance—it is a fulfillment of the ultimate promise of righteous leadership to its deserving constituency.”

The resolution will also require that the City of Seattle only purchases firearms and ammunition from dealers that take steps to reduce gun violence and are fully compliant with all federal and state laws, including background checks for all buyers.