Sunday, September 26, 2010

Shot spotter technology: two things to consider, two things to avoid

Plainfield is poised to purchase technology that will enable the police to instantly locate gunshots in our city. The upfront cost is $1 million to cover an area stretching completely across the city from east to west. The ongoing cost will be $100,000 per year for the service contract. Proponents say we will get more convictions and the shot spotter program will be a deterrent to crime. Other cities are getting onboard and the company that sells the shot spotter program claims that it reduces crime.

Public safety is a huge concern in Plainfield and nowhere more than in some west side neighborhoods. Citizens deserve to be safe and to feel safe so this technology needs serious consideration. The Council has already approved the financing for it on first reading. Second reading will likely be in October.

I am in favor of Plainfield becoming a shot spotter city. My problem is the approach we are taking. Two things we must consider:

1. We are taking a buy first, plan later approach. Technology in and of itself will not solve our crime problems any more than a computer on a desk at the One Stop Career Center will get someone a job. We need a comprehensive strategy for crime. It needs to include technology, adequate police manpower, best practices in rapid response, recreation programs for youth and jobs programs for young adults. If we are going to spend $100,000 a year on a technology contract, we need to ask if some of that money could instead help balance our strategy by hiring mentors to work with kids evenings and weekends. It appears to me that we are rushing into this because no-one wants to appear to be against crime fighting. The reality is that fighting crime does not address the core problems facing our youth and we need to deal with them and fight crime at the same time.

2. Big problem, limited resources. Our administration wants to spend taxpayer dollars without having really looked for the grants that are out there and being used by other towns. When faced with an expensive gamble that shows promise, a sensible thing to do is ease into it. I am not saying study it to death. I mean install shot spotter in a smaller section of town. Starting with the west side makes sense because our crime statistics tell us we should concentrate there. We can see how it works and decide later if the east side of town would benefit from shot spotter. Hopefully we will have made some progress on getting grant money. Or perhaps we would decide to concentrate more on the core problems through recreation and jobs programs for kids in the sections of town where gang activity is prevalent.

There are many unanswered questions. What if silencers are installed on handguns? What if a gang member fires shots in the eastend to divert the police from a planned gun confrontation in the westend? We need answers and comprehensive strategies. Lets move on this but not rush into an emotional decision that may or may not be the best way to use Plainfield's limited resources.

Two things we need to avoid as debate on this initiative continues:
1. I don't believe Council members are polarized on this issue as New versus Regular Democrats. But some members of the public will want to pressure Council members by accusing them of being "political". I heard that during the public comments at the last meeting. I worry that elected officials may be pressured to rush into this to avoid the accusation of not caring about citizens safety. That is nonsense.

2. The perception that city resources are unfairly distributed between the 4th ward versus 2nd ward also came up at the last Council meeting. The comment referred to people on the hill. I live on "the hill" and here is a news flash: there are gunshots on the hill. Another news flash in case you think "the hill" is synonymous with white people: it is the most ethnically and racially diverse neighborhood in Plainfield. By far. And people "on the hill" care about what happens in other parts of town. We understand that for Plainfield to thrive, the whole town needs to be safe and secure.

I hope we can move on the shot spotter proposal but not before elected officials look at this with open eyes and rational minds.


Anonymous said...

I for one appreciate this analysis.

Alan Goldstein said...

Funny you should mention the One Stop Career Center. We had (have?; may have lost?) the money to send people there to use more than a computer, but to actually get enrolled in real job training programs. $267,909 to be precise. That might have played its part in the overall fight against crime. Instead, the Administration and the City Council chose to add $83,250 to the city's general 'loose-finance' fund, and hand out another $184,659 in a contract that violates Federal and State law, and engineered to enrich a former City Councilman and his family. So I'll give you a Dan Williamsonian opionion: Yes, get ShotSpotter, because even when given resources to address the 'core' problems we blow it. No, don't get ShotSpotter, because even when given resources to address the 'core' problems we blow it.

Anonymous said...

I also believe that the council is rushing into this decision. Originally we were told that Shot Spotter was the ONLY technology like this. Well, it is NOT. There is another company in Tuscon, AZ. that has similar technology. Is it better? I don't know, but I believe the council owes it to the citizens to research this to make sure we are making the right choice.

Also, we have been told that crime moves, so the end result is that we will have Shot Spotter over all of Plainfield. We had better be prepared to spend that kind of money.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Storch your rationale re the "Spotter Tech" was right on. Well thought out and well expressed.

Bob said...

I appreciate your thoughtful approach to this program. I also have several concerns. I want to see evidence that the program will indeed lead to more arrests and reduce shootings in Plainfield. If there is not proff-positive evidence to this, then this program is too expensive for a nearly bankrupt city like ours. We don't have the financial people in place to tell us if this is affordable. If we had a mayor who was trustworthy we could trust our financial status. I hope the City Council will make sure of these items I've mentioned before committing Plainfield and its taxpayers to an very expensive project.

Anonymous said...

Well said, Cory. Completely agree with one additional comment. How about no investment until grant funding is explored and exhausted? With a limited installation, there is nothing ot prevent the violence from moving beyond the perimeter of detection. And funds invested in the installment and dedicated to maintenance are not able to be redeployed elsewhere as with other efforts. If we invest funds in a mentoring program with no results, we can change course and invest in additional police overtime. If that is not sufficient, perhaps more police headcount and visible presence.

Tony Rucker said...

I must admit I am disappointed and discouraged by your support for this proposal. I don't think you understand how this looks or feels to the average taxpayer. It seems like you are just moving forward without the required data you need and Plainfield needs to see, before spending $1,000,000.

Sherlock Holmes once said,

"It is unwise to theorize with no data. Inevitably you twist facts to suit theories instead of using theories that suit facts.'

Reasonable men can disagree over opinion. My hope is Plainfield can build consensus and create solutions supported by facts not fear.

Anonymous said...

ShotSpotter -

Corey I don't understand your position. You point out all the red flags associated with this Gunshot technology approach and then conclude in your post this is what's best for Plainfield??? You think the council is moving too fast. Aren't you on the council and didn't you vote in favor of it?. Buy first plan later, that's exactly what you seem to be doing.

Big problem limited resources. But it's appearant from your yes vote you have a plan. Heap an additional million dollars onto the backs of Plainfield's taxpayers. Corey your're a good guy but this to me is a departure from your generally common sense perspective. Not everyone can absorb tax increases at the rate you can. Must be nice to live "on the hill."

Anonymous said...

Just read Jerry's column critiquing yours.

I did not see the words New Democrats in your blog - someone should tell him. Also, I guess he includes Linda Carter as a New Democrat, which is curious as she always votes in favor of the administration - someone should tell her she is a New Democrat.

He talks about the mayor giving the budget to the council, and then it is the council's budget. Only thing is that the mayor doesn't have a clue what a budget is, and hands over an expense report to the council, so they have to do her job - maybe someone should tell her.

Jerry is not good for Plainfield and needs to go - maybe the voters should tell him.

Anonymous said...

Cory, I agree with your assessment that we should start out small and see whether it's an effective investment. That being said, how would the ShotSpotter been of service with the murder of Mr. Leonardo on Tuesday? The nature of the system is reactive, and we still need solution(s) that are proactive in reducing gun violence. This is our toughest challenge.

Nat Singleton said...

Cory, I think your analysis was spot on and I wonder if Assemblyman Green read it before he published his rambling missive attacking you. If he did read or had someone read it to him, his response showed a total lack of understanding which one can only adduce to enfeeblement (say it ain't so, Jerry) or a serious deficit in reading comprehension or both. Either way it seems that the mere site/mention of your name reduces him to blathering apoplexy like that seen at the mention of the words Niagara Falls in the old Abbot and Costello skit. Let us hope he gets help. I suggest Lexapro and a long rest.

Now I have one quibble with the administration and the council and that is the the devil is in the details. I have been in technology for of 40 years and have seen many systems go down the tubes and it happens for several reasons:

1.The vendor over promises and under-delivers.
2.The people making the descion don't have the technical expertise.
3.The vendor provides only anecdotal evidence and no verifiable hard scientific facts to verify the performance claims of their solution.
4.Positive references provided by the vendor were paid for.
5.Lack of customer expertise to administer the system after the vendor leaves.
6.Lack of buy-in from the people using the system, even if they have the expertise.
7.Lack of buy-in from the stakeholders. In this case the community that is to be the supposed beneficiary of the solution..
8.Lack of written and monitoring of performance guarantees from the people charted with administering the system. Example, can you guarantee the arrival of a Police car within 3 minutes of the shots being fired?

Now even if you get all of these things done, it just gets you to the point of having a functional system. The next phase should be a go/no-go pilot to verify that the solution can actually meet the promised deliverables (in this case a reduction in crime the justifies the cost of the project). If its a go, there should be a phased implementation. If its a no go, can adjustments be made to improve the pilot?
If yes, implement the improvements, restart the pilot and go through the cycle again. If no, close the project down and get your money back. Better still hold the monies in an escrow account and if no-go take your money out and close the account. If a go, pay them in stages with the final payment going to them six months after the successful completion of the project.

Cory Storch said...

Thanks for your comments Tony and it is refreshing when someone comments using their name instead of "anonymous". I could have been more clear about what I am proposing. Starting with the westside as the coverage area would cost half as much. More specifically, $500,000 for the capital cost and $50,000 per year for the maintenance contract. And as I indicated at the end of the blog I will not support moving ahead until all the questions are answered.

Tony Rucker said...

Councilman Storch, you did make it clear that you would not support moving forward on shotspotter if those questions you so astutely pointed out in your post were not answered. I thank you for your careful consideration of the proposal.

But without conclusive answers, or evidence of a statistical corellation between implementation and reduction in crime, I urge you to withdraw your support for the proposal. Let's work on creating authentic safety for the people of Plainfield not just the perception of it.

Taking my shoes off before I go through airport security @ EWR never makes me feel even a little better.