Seattle Mayor Ed Murray announced Thursday the city is moving forward with a one-year pilot project to test a gunshot-locator system in the Rainier Valley and Central District.
Keisha Scott, the mother of 11-year-old twins, is considering pulling her sons out of South Shore PK-8 School on South Henderson Street because of the frequency of shootings in the school’s Rainier Beach neighborhood.
Last fall, shots were fired as her boys’ class returned to the school from a “walking field trip,” increasing her concerns about stray bullets.
Students have had to shelter in place six times since March, she said, and all of the shootings have “rattled me, my husband and my baby boys.”
The mother of fifth-graders shared a podium outside the Rainier Beach Community Center on Thursday with Seattle’s mayor, police chief and City Council members, throwing her support behind a one-year pilot project to test a gunshot-detection system in Rainier Valley and Central District.
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The acoustic gunshot-locator technology uses microphones, sensors and cameras mounted overhead to identify shots and triangulate the location of gunfire. Mayor Ed Murray said the technology will allow police to respond to reports of shots fired even before 911 is called — and cameras can zoom in on individuals and car license plates, increasing the odds of identifying and arresting perpetrators.
Seattle officials hope the system can help quell the recent spate of gun violence. Since the start of the year, according to city officials, there have been 144 reports of gunshots fired, leading to five deaths and 24 people wounded.
The mayor noted the majority of victims are young African Americans.
Murray, along with Council President Bruce Harrell, Councilmembers Sally Bagshaw and Tim Burgess, Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole and community leaders discussed the technology aimed at enhancing public safety and improving police response times.
“This is the very best way to keep a very safe city safer,” Murray said.
He noted the announcement of the pilot project comes two years after the deadly shooting at Seattle Pacific University as well as the shooting deaths of Dwone Anderson-Young, 23, and Ahmed Said, 27, in Seattle. The young men’s alleged killer, Ali Muhammad Brown, is also facing murder charges in New Jersey.
The mayor and City Council are already engaging in a series of “community conversations” to determine which neighborhoods would be willing to accept the technology, Murray said.
There is no launch date yet and the City Council will need to enact legislation before the gunshot detectors can be deployed.
Harrell said the issue of gun violence is personal to him: His daughter was in the same class as 17-year-old Robert Robinson Jr., a Cleveland High School senior who was fatally shot on a Beacon Hill street corner in March 2015. He also coached and his son played football with Reece Ali, 21, who was found fatally shot inside an idling car in Renton in July.
“These young men are not just names,” he said.
Harrell, a longtime proponent of gunshot-detection technology, cited a Brookings Institution study that found only 12 percent of gunshots were reported to police in Washington, D.C. He said the 70 or so cities already using the acoustic and camera equipment have seen a 25 to 35 percent reduction in gun crimes.
Meanwhile in Seattle, 5 percent of the city’s blocks are where half of all gunfire occurs, Harrell said.
While there are legitimate concerns about the use of cameras, Harrell vowed “anything we do will be looked at through a race and social-justice lens.”
Burgess, who has previously criticized the technology for being ineffective, said he now thinks it’s worth trying.
“The technology has improved dramatically over the last several years, but the addition of the video cameras pushed me over to say, ‘OK, will this work, will this result in the increased apprehension of gun-violence offenders?’ ” he said.
The pilot project will be funded by a nearly $1 million grant obtained by the Seattle office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which has so far received proposals from three vendors, said Scott Lindsay, Murray’s public-safety adviser.
Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Washington voiced concern over the implementation of the system without fully vetting privacy issues.
“While the city’s goal of reducing gun violence is laudable, it is important for our city leaders to determine the cost-effectiveness of the investment, and to set clear rules that will restrict the use of this technology to that purpose, before deploying these surveillance devices,” said Shankar Narayan, ACLU of Washington’s technology and liberty director.