Morning Report: Police Listening Device Less Effective Than Advertised - Voice of San Diego

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Morning Report: Police Listening Device Less Effective Than Advertised

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A ShotSpotter sensor is located near the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park and Recreation Center on Skyline Drive / Photo by Brittany Cruz-Fejeran

Yet another surveillance technology isn’t living up to its promise, and some San Diego police officials are now questioning its usefulness as the contract comes up for renewal.

In 2016, the city approved a four-year $1 million deal with ShotSpotter, attaching gunshot-detection sensors in southeast San Diego communities to better track gun violence. The company claims that the devices have a false positive rate of 0.5 percent, suggesting that false alarms are rare.

SDPD’s own data suggests otherwise. VOSD intern Kara Grant took a closer look at the numbers and found that the city’s false positive rate was 12.3 percent, about 25 times higher.

San Diego was also interested in deploying the technology on its streets as a way of lifting DNA off bullets and shell casings. But 60 percent of all gunfire alerts didn’t end with a report, meaning most of the time officers couldn’t find anything to collect.

ShotSpotter sells its technology to cities across the United States as a criminal deterrent, but that, too, is a questionable premise. One community organizer told Grant that gang members aren’t fazed by the audio sensors. They’re far more concerned about their images being captured on streetlight cameras. 

Those devices, as Jesse Marx has previously reported, were initially sold to the public as a way to save energy and monitor traffic and air quality, but have become a tool useful exclusively to law enforcement. Officials have said the smart streetlights program has been shut off while the City Council considers a surveillance ordinance laying ground rules for how such devices can be used. 

By the way: After the story published, we learned that a forensic analyst for ShotSpotter testified as part of an attempted murder trial in San Francisco in 2017. Under oath, he said the company’s accuracy claims were invented by the company’s sales and marketing team because cities wanted a number upfront. “We have to tell them something,” the man said. 

Tier Is Life

From bar owners to school superintendents, many closely watched a state announcement Tuesday to find out if San Diego County would remain in the state’s dreaded purple tier. For those who favor reopening, the news was good. 

San Diego County moved back down into the red tier, which means indoor bars will be allowed to stay open and schools can go forth with their reopening plans. 

Reminder on the way tiers work: If a county stays in a particular tier for two weeks, then it must follow the rules for that tier set down by the state. Last week, San Diego moved into the purple. If it had stayed in purple this week, then the county would have had to roll back many of the reopenings that have already happened – especially as it relates to indoor activities. 

At least four school districts currently have plans to reopen, as the Union-Tribune previously reported. If the county had stayed in the purple tier on Tuesday many of those districts would have had to hold up their plans. (Several other districts have already been opened. They would not have been forced to close if the county stayed in the purple tier.)

In the meantime, KUSI reports San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and City Councilman Chris Cate have asked Gov. Gavin Newsom for convention center reopening guidelines.

Refunds Coming for Airport Rental Car Customers

Fees suck, right? Lawsuits challenging the legality of one local fee argued that the fees didn’t just suck but that they weren’t enacted legally.

Now, more than a million people who paid a $3.50 fee to rent a car during the last two years may be able to get their money back as a result of settlements. As much as $6.6 million may be paid out by the Port of San Diego, reports Ashly McGlone. 

Here’s the deal with the fee: the Port of San Diego required rental car companies at the airport to charge a $3.50 “fee” for each rental. The money raised would go toward a 1,600-space parking garage in Chula Vista that was supposed to serve as parking for the planned bayfront convention center there. But “fees” are supposed to be used to benefit the people who pay them. 

Rental car companies sued – saying the fee was not beneficial to their customers. 

In Other News

The Morning Report was written by Jesse Marx and Will Huntsberry, and edited by Sara Libby.

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