False Accusation and Arrest due to inaccuracy of Police Shotspotter System

Rabin Nabizadeh
April 9, 2013

29-year-old Keith Harding was outside of a marijuana grow house in the 1600 block of 85th Avenue when he was shot and killed.  Law enforcement officers are still unable to determine whether or not Harding’s death is connected to the activities of the grow house, but it was found on the premise during the investigation into the slaying.

Interestingly, police were alerted to the shooting through the use, not only of reports by nearby residents, but also of “Shotspotter,” a gunshot detection device with sensors that detect gunfire blasts.  This particular piece of technology has become one of the basic mainstays of California police work and is made by a company in Mountain View.  The technology allows sensors to distinguish between “acoustic events” that can be identified as gun blasts and other “noises.”  Devices of this kind triangulate patterns of sound and are pretty accurate – the margin of error is about 5 yards.

While Harding was, indeed, shot near the location given to police by “Shotspotter,” this law enforcement device, in use in California since 2010, has some problems as well – like not actually being able to distinguish between actual gunfire and other noises.  If police depend on this device to offer accurate information to them for the purposes of preventing crime, then it has to be dependable.  False alarms are more common than actual true reports from these devices.

Shotspotter may have alerted East Oakland police to the fact that a gun was fired in the area that Harding was shot, but there is no substitute for actual police work.  Bringing in “Big Brother” technologies in an attempt to connect a particular firearm shot with an individual crime will only continue to result in shoddy investigative techniques and in the accusation of innocent persons.  Take, for example, the story of Brandon Wallace, who sought medical help in Richmond for a gunshot wound, claiming that he had been shot in the area.  When local law enforcement checked Shotspotter, which does not, by the way, register indoor gunshots, they found that no blasts had been reported.  They then concluded that Wallace was involved in a murder earlier that day in Berkeley- because Shotspotter registered gunfire there.  Wallace was immediately arrested.  If this is the kind of evidence that law enforcement officials are depending on to make arrests, then defense attorneys can breathe a little easier.

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