Is York City ready for ShotSpotter and a citywide camera network?

Noel Miller
York Dispatch

York City is once again exploring the possibility of installing a citywide security and surveillance network, a possibility that faced some opposition over privacy and civil rights concerns during previous community discussions.

This time around, two nonprofits are leading the effort, with Logos Works CEO Aaron Anderson presenting an informal update on the SafeNet project at last week's City Council meeting.

To go further with the SafeNet Project, Anderson said Logos Works would need city interest and approval because the network would utilize city infrastructure. So far, no official plan or resolution has been submitted to the city council.

"We want to be as transparent as possible about this, because we know there are people have a lot of good questions," Anderson said. "I would say, you know, our goal would be to unify the public and council and government around the idea as we study it."

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Currently, there aren't many specifics available on what the camera network would look like. The other nonprofit, Better York, completed a study to gauge interest in a camera network among York city residents, Anderson said, however, they still need to research project logistics.

FILE - ShotSpotter equipment overlooks the intersection of South Stony Island Avenue and East 63rd Street in Chicago on Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021. In more than 140 cities across the United States in 2023, ShotSpotter’s artificial intelligence algorithm and its intricate network of microphones evaluate hundreds of thousands of sounds a year to determine if they are gunfire, generating data now being used in criminal cases nationwide. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File)

Better York initially funded a study into a camera network and community interest a few years ago, according to Eric Menzer, the group's chairman. If SafeNet gets city approval, Better York would likely continue to help fund the project, he said.

"What [the study] really did is it took the concept which is used in a number of cities and applied it to York and said, 'Where would, what would a grid of cameras look like?'," Menzer said.

Since no resolution or official proposal on the project has been made, the SafeNet Project was not placed on any legislative agendas after the committee meeting.

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Council President Sandie Walker said any decision on the matter is still some time away.

FILE - Law enforcement personnel use an interactive electronic map for the ShotSpotter Dispatch program running within the Fusion Watch department at the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Headquarters Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, in Las Vegas. In more than 140 cities across the United States in 2023, ShotSpotter’s artificial intelligence algorithm and its intricate network of microphones evaluate hundreds of thousands of sounds a year to determine if they are gunfire, generating data now being used in criminal cases nationwide. (L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP, File)

"All of council who will vote on that resolution will be able to be comfortable that the decisions are being made, due diligence has been executed and it’s for the best interest of all of our citizens," she said.

Although public comment on the SafeNet Project bled into comment on the potential revival of the ShotSpotter program in York, Anderson noted that the two are separate projects unrelated to each other. Several residents voiced concerns of privacy and the governance of the SafeNet Project and ShotSpotter.

"They're not connected or related. ShotSpotter is run by the city police. What we're proposing with, or what's being proposed to be studied ... is a public safety network that would not be controlled by the city government or by police," Anderson said.

York City City Council President Sandie Walker during a Flag Day Celebration at Veterans Memorial Gold Star Healing and Peace Garden in York City, Tuesday, June 14, 2022. Dawn J. Sagert photo

York City resident Manuel Gomez brought up concerns over how the SafeNet Project would be run.

"How does it fit into the overall technology path?" Gomez said. "Is this being something done along with us, or is this something being done to us? I'm not sure at this point, if this is something being done with us."

Anderson addressed his concerns saying if SafeNet did come to fruition, the community could be involved in its governance. "I believe a camera network has to have substantial community buy-in," Anderson said, noting this was his opinion. While specifics are still to be determined having community representatives on the governing, Anderson did offer a point of interest.

With a nonprofit governing the SafeNet project, they could set up a governing board to include members of the community with doubts and concerns about it, Anderson said.

Discussions on ShotSpotter stemmed from the item following Logos Work's presentation, American Rescue Plan Act funding requests for 2023.

While York City had used ShotSpotter about 15 years ago, "it was terrible, it was awful," Police Capt. Daniel Lentz said.

Several people echoed these sentiments during recent City Council meetings remarking on reports and studies of inaccuracy from ShotSpotter programs. Ron Teachman, a representative from ShotSpotter, responded to the concerns. The ShotSpotter system has seen updates over the years, including AI to help identify sounds that are not gunshots, filtering them out before the sound goes to a trained human to review, he said.

FILE - ShotSpotter CEO Ralph Clark stands for a portrait at one of the company's facilities in Newark, Calif., on Tuesday, Aug, 10, 2021. Clark has said that the system’s machine classifications are improved by its “real-world feedback loops from humans.” However, a 2022 study found humans tend to overestimate their abilities to identify sounds. (AP Photo/Josh Edelson, File)

The York City Police Department is "a proponent of giving ShotSpotter another try," Lentz said.

"To me, the benefits outweigh any of the concerns," Lentz said. ShotSpotter could help combat the bystander effect, in which people may hear a gunshot but do not report it because they think others in the area will report it, Lentz said. With ShotSpotter, fewer incidents could go unreported.

No official deal has been proposed between ShotSpotter and the police department or the city. The department is interested in doing a trial run of ShotSpotter and has requested ARPA funds for it, but no final decision has been made.

ShotSpotter discussions were not moved to the legislative agenda, as the city wants to speak with the consulting company they hired to help them determine how to allocate ARPA funds, before they make final decisions on funding items with that money, Walker said.

The next council committee meeting is March 1 and will be streamed on the White Rose Community Television website at https://www.wrct.tv/ and YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/@WhiteRoseCommunityTV/featured.

— Reach Noel Miller at NMiller3@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @TheNoelM.