By Myrna Bonin, Rutgers University Alum, Class of 2021

Shotspotter is an acoustic gunshot surveillance tool used by law enforcement agencies across the country. It “installs 20 to 25 microphones per square mile” in the cities where it operates “to identify and locate the sound of gunshots.”

A recent opinion piece by Dr. Goldenberg-Sandau, a surgeon working at a New Jersey trauma center, supported the use of acoustic surveillance technology by law enforcement. Dr. Goldenberg-Sandau, who works in collaboration with the company, contends that use of the tool, paired with police “scoop and run” practice (police transfer of the wounded to emergency care), helps save gunshot patients’ lives. 

There is controversy over whether Shotspotter is effective as a law enforcement tool. Chicago’s Office of the Inspector General investigated the effectiveness of the technology in that city. OIG concluded from its analysis that CPD responses to ShotSpotter alerts can seldom be shown to lead to investigatory stops which might have investigative value and rarely produce evidence of a gun-related crime. Additionally, Chicago found that the technology degraded the relationship between police and the public in areas where ShotSpotter alerts are frequent. Opponents of Shotspotter claim that it leads to racially biased policing.

Newark, NJ has had a contract with Shotspotter since 2009. Funding for this product involves initial costs, yearly maintenance, and contract renewals. Despite the questionable claims of Shotspotter’s effectiveness, Newark is bolstering its relationship with the company by placing it on school buildings.

The Camden County, NJ Police Department has used Shotspotter since 2012. Camden’s use of Shotspotter is part of its arsenal of surveillance technology. 

Dr. Goldenberg-Sandau’s claim that Shotspotter helps save the lives of gunshot patients is not supported by available data. Dr. Gregory J. Jurkovitch, a trauma surgeon and Vice Chair of the Department of Surgery at the University of California Davis Health in Sacramento and Dr. Inaba Kenji, Chief of the Division of Trauma, Emergency Surgery and Surgical Critical Care at Keck School of Medicine USC in Los Angeles, co-authored a paper on police transport of gunshot patients, challenging claims of the benefits of police scoop and run and the impractical use of police resources to transport gunshot patients. They wrote, “It seems clear that patients transported by the police were more severely injured and physiologically distressed.” 

In conclusion, more science-based evidence is needed to support any assertions that Shotspotter saves lives. Current data does not.