Wrongful Arrests Could Increase With This New Technology

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A New Technology Could Lead to More Wrongful Arrests


If law enforcement officials have their way, a new technology could be hitting the streets of Ft. Greene. While this may be good news for local crime fighters, it could be bad news for residents. Dubbed “ShotSpotter,” the dubious technology may lead to a rash of wrongful arrests, according to local experts. Learn what effect this may have in your neighborhood as local officials begin rolling out their latest toy.

Wrongful Arrests in Brooklyn and Fort Greene

According to reports, the city of Fort Greene is planning to give police officers a new weapon soon. To aid in their battle against crime, they could soon have the ability to detect gunshots in a given area. This technology would alert them to an area where a gunshot occurred. Using audio sensors that are attached to rooftops and streetlights, the system can detect fired shots. Sorting out similar noises (think fireworks), the analyzer alerts local police to the incident so they can investigate further.

While this seems like a handy tool for law enforcement, it has some legal experts alarmed. The fear is that it will give officers justification to search citizens in the vicinity. Using the excuse of “probable cause,” a cop could search someone even if there is no reason. This, they fear, will lead to an uptick in wrongful arrests throughout the city.

According to some reports, the ShotSpotter system is 95% accurate. While those numbers are impressive, it still leaves a 5% chance for false reporting. Still, the technologies success rate is not in question. Rather, its effect on civil liberties is.

What is ShotSpotter?

Gunfire locator – or gunshot detection – systems are not entirely new forms of technology. In one form or another, the law enforcement tool has been around since roughly 1992. From a practical standpoint, it has been in use since 2007, which units located in the following cities and states:

  • Bellwood, Illinois
  • Chicago, Illinois
  • Birmingham, Alabama
  • Boston, Massachusetts
  • Kansas City, Kansas
  • Los Angeles, California
  • Oakland, California
  • San Francisco, California
  • Brooklyn, New York

Other cities include Washington D.C., Springfield, Wilmington, and New York City.

The technology is not just limited to the United States either. Foreign countries such as the United Kingdom and Brazil also utilize the technology.

While gunshot detection systems are mostly audible, there are some that integrate with camera systems. In this situation, the video cameras record the immediate vicinity once a gun shot gets detected.

ShotSpotter is one of several types of systems available on the market today. It focuses primarily on law enforcement and public safety applications. Other units get purposed for wildlife poaching prevention and military use.

Gunshot Detection and Civil Rights

There is no debating the usefulness of gunshot detection systems. An astounding 80 percent of shootings do not get called into police departments, according to reporting agencies. Being alerted to gunshots with greater frequency – and faster – could lead to lower crime rates.

However, defense attorneys are quick to point out that it will also lead to more wrongful arrests. A delicate balance must get met. While the systems can detect gun fire, they cannot detect whom the shooter is.

The scenario is simple: a gunshot occurs, and police get dispatched. They arrive on the scene and encounter several people who ‘look suspicious.’ They may then opt to arrest these “suspicious” characters, even though they are innocent. By its very nature, the technology can lead to abuse. At the very least, it can be inadvertently misused.

Policemen require probable cause to search a person or premise. They can either obtain this from the person or justify it in certain situations. One of those scenarios involves gunfire – a threat to public safety. If a person is on the scene and carrying drugs, they could find themselves in jail. This is regardless to whether they fired the gunshot or not.

Some judges have allowed ShotSpotter reports as evidence in New York court cases. This furthers the potential for abuse not just within police agencies, but in the court systems as well.

New York Criminal Defense Attorneys and ShotSpotter

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) published the ACLU’s View on Gunshot Detectors┬áback in May of 2012. They cited concern with the fact that the technology was in 70 cities and that it could record sounds other than gunshots. In one instance, a loud argument got recorded. This is a big no-no, as law enforcement officials cannot record a conversation without a warrant.

Overall, the ACLU worries that the technology could allow police to circumvent the Fourth Amendment. There lies the potential for government agencies such as the NSA to use the tech to violate privacy without a warrant.

Do you live in New York City, Brooklyn, or Fort Greene? Have a concern about ShotSpotter? Need an experienced New York attorney? Contact us today for a consultation!