Denver, CO

Denver City Council debates ShotSpotter technology following fatal rampage

David Heitz
Velizar Ivanoz/Unsplash

Denver's ShotSpotter gunfire detection service issued an alert last week when a gunman fired shots during a rampage across Denver and Lakewood that killed five and injured two.

But during a discussion Monday night at City Council about approving a $4.7 million contract for ShotSpotter, City Council member Candi CdeBacca quizzed a police department representative about whether police were alerted to the rampage first by the system or by a 911 call.

Denver Police Division Chief Ron Howard said ShotSpotter issued an alert on Dec. 27 at a residence at 12th and Williams. That was one of four locations in Denver where the gunman fired shots. Michael Swinyard, 67, died when the gunman forced his way into Swinyard's condo at One Cheesman Place, 1201 N. Williams St.

But he could not say which came first -- the 911 call or the ShotSpotter alert.

CdeBaca said if the alert came second, why does the city need ShotSpotter.

Howard replied that ShotSpotter more accurately pinpoints where a gunshot originates, while people are less able to determine that. ShotSpotter uses listening technology placed in areas with a high amount of gun violence. When the system detects a gunshot, police get a notification.

Does ShotSpotter work?

CdeBaca, who generally champions liberal causes, asked for data that proves the ShotSpotter technology reduces gun violence.

Several speakers Monday said the technology encourages race-based policing because it has been placed in areas with gun violence where minorities live. ShotSpotter monitors 14 out of 110 square miles in the city.

But City Council member Chris Hinds challenged that assumption. His district, District 10, which is 80 percent white, has ShotSpotter technology.

CdeBaca asked questions for several minutes Monday before City Council President Stacie Gilmore encouraged her to wrap up.

But CdeBaca insisted the council needs data showing ShotSpotter's effectiveness.

Howard said over 98 percent of ShotSpotter's clients nationwide renew their contracts.

But CdeBaca wanted to know why Los Angeles and other cities canceled their contracts. She did not get an answer.

Hinds said he's concerned about conflicting data about ShotSpotter's effectiveness. But Flynn said it's only fair to judge ShotSpotter on its ability to detect gunshots, not solve crimes.

The council approved the contract. CdeBaca voted no.

Tackling gun violence

The debate over the $4.7 million ShotSpotter contract was part of a two-pronged approach the council took Monday to address gun violence.

Council members also approved a comprehensive gun control bill. CdeBaca was the only no vote with Council members Robin Kniech and Kendra Black absent.

A moment of silence

Council started its meeting with a moment of silence for last week's shooting rampage victims.

City Council member Kevin Flynn noted that the shooter did not use a ghost gun, the type of guns the council outlawed during Monday's meeting.

Ghost guns are firearms with pieces that are missing serial numbers. Some ghost guns are built with 3D printers from online plans, while others are homemade using parts ordered off the internet.

The bill also reclassifies panhandling laws and classifies pistols as assault weapons.

A city attorney's office representative explained adding the panhandling language into the gun bill was for housekeeping matters.

But homeless advocate Mary Anna Thompson said doing that provides an example of "legislation only for people with money in their pockets."

Amendment to delay enforcement fails

Flynn introduced a failed amendment to delay enforcing the ordinance until October to give people time to decide what to do with any guns that violate the new law.

He also wanted to exempt people who have inherited guns. Flynn said the bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms is considering changing federal law to create a pathway to make ghost guns legal.

But City Council member Amanda Sawyer said it would be irresponsible to postpone implementing the ban.

"We have an extraordinary gun violence problem in our city, and we have to act. We can't wait for the federal government to do it."

A representative from the city attorney's office also opposed Flynn's amendment, which failed with only four affirmative votes.

Firearm advocate says public comment cut short

Robert Edmiston representing a gun ownership advocacy group spoke against the gun bill. He said the city hadn't allowed enough time for public comment.

He told the council that Canada recently abandoned plans for a gun registry after learning it didn't solve a single crime.

Edmiston wanted the council to add more provisions in the bill to exempt people who own ghost guns for personal or property protection.

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I have been in the news business more than 30 years, spending much of my career at some of the best local newspapers in the country. Today, I report on Denver City Hall, homelessness and other topics for NewsBreak, much like I did in my twenties covering Newport Beach, Calif. for the Daily Pilot. I consider myself a lucky guy to still be doing what I love after so many years.

Denver, CO

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