Detroit may spend Covid relief funds on ineffective and discriminatory public safety smart tech

The Intercept reports that the city of Detroit is on the brink of deciding whether to divert some $7 million of federal money on ShotSpotter, a controversial surveillance technology that uses publicly installed microphones to detect gunshots in cities.

This seems to be yet another case of public money reserved for helping the needy is actually ending up in the pockets of private companies that sell ‘smart city’ promises:

“ShotSpotter explicitly urges cities to tap funds from the American Rescue Plan Act, intended to salve financial hardship caused by the pandemic, to buy new surveillance microphones.”

“Billions in Covid aid have been spent on funding police departments, a flood of money that’s proven a boon to surveillance contractors, said Matthew Guariglia, a policy analyst with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “For a long time already, money that has been intended for public well-being has been specifically funneled into police departments,” said Guariglia, “and specifically for surveillance equipment that maybe they didn’t have the money to fund beforehand.”

And here is how this so-called ‘smart technology’ actually accentuates inequalities and leads to exclusion:

“Critics of Detroit’s plan said ShotSpotter doesn’t stop gun violence and exacerbates over-policing of the same struggling neighborhoods the Covid relief money was meant to help.”

“Not only is ShotSpotter a waste of money, critics say, but the system menaces the very neighborhoods it claims to protect by directing armed, keyed-up police onto city blocks with the expectation of a violent confrontation. These heightened police responses occur along stark racial lines. “In Chicago, ShotSpotter is only deployed in the police districts with the highest proportion of Black and Latinx residents,” the MacArthur Justice Center found”

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