, August 09, 2022

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Vallejo surveillance board rejects gunshot detection system

  •   3 min reads
Vallejo surveillance board rejects gunshot detection system
A Flock gunshot detection device. Photo: Flock.

VALLEJO – Vallejo’s surveillance advisory board declined Wednesday to recommend that the Vallejo City Council accept 80 to 100 gunshot detection devices as a way to combat gun violence in the city.

In a 5-2 vote during a special meeting Wednesday night, the board rejected an offer from Atlanta-based Flock Safety to pair the devices with automated license plate readers already installed in Vallejo. Board Chair Naomi Yun and board member Lisa Chen voted to accept the devices.

The city council has final authority over acceptance of the devices and will discuss the issue at an upcoming meeting.

The surveillance board members took issue with a lack of data on the relatively new technology, which has been installed in Flint, Michigan, and the greater Atlanta area. They also raised concerns about privacy and how much audio the devices pick up when not in use.

Vice Chair Andrea Sorce said she had concerns about officer escalation and how some residents may be impacted by arriving officers responding to a shooting.

“I’m concerned about the escalation, especially given that the department is currently reforming its use-of-force policy,” Sorce said.

Sorce said officers should receive additional training on how to approach these situations.

Board member Adam Bregenzar expressed similar concerns, stating that the new technology could strain the department and its staff, especially with the draft use policy stating that officers would treat an activation as a priority one call.

“I personally would be in favor of a policy that started with something that had an initial period where there was additional evidence required to corroborate to escalate it to priority one,” Bregenzar said.

Deputy Police Chief Jason Ta said the department would treat a gunshot detection as if a member of the community called 9-1-1 to report a shooting.

“If we have a gunshot, we want to make sure if there is a victim, we respond to it immediately,” Ta said. He went on to clarify that a priority two call may not be dispatched for several minutes or even hours.  

Hector Soliman-Valdez, senior customer success manager with Flock, touted the company’s approach, stating that Flock is different from other gunshot detection devices because it pairs the equipment with license plate readers as a way to aid law enforcement in investigating crime.

When a gunshot is recorded, on-duty officers and the Flock Safety system will review a five-second clip to determine “the likelihood that the information is reliable,” according to the draft policy.

“It should be noted that the technology will likely never be 100% accurate,” the policy further states.

One of the department’s deputy police chiefs will serve as program manager, provide oversight of the devices by reviewing monthly and yearly analysis, be the department’s point of contact for the vendor, and ensure all new field employees, power users, and communications personnel have received training, according to the policy.

Soliman-Valdez said Flock’s system is automated and not a live person. He said the recordings are uneditable and that Flock does have access to the audio, which is owned by Vallejo police.

He said that the technology has a 97% accuracy rate and has the ability to detect glass breaking, street racing and car collisions, but only gunshot detection would be beta tested at first.

The board was approached last month to sign off on the devices and a use policy. But ahead of that meeting, the city said the draft policy wasn’t ready for public review. The board voted to push back discussion on the policy until a draft was ready for presentation.

Groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and media outlets like the Associated Press have raised questions about the effectiveness of similar gunshot detection devices and if they stop or prevent gun violence.

Vallejo police maintain that the devices would help the understaffed department by getting to potential gunshot victims quicker and increase arrests. Chief Shawny Williams said the city experienced 250 shootings in 2021.

“We believe that the technology will allow us to detect gunshots and instantly notify officers of that gunshot detection before the actual call for service may come in,” Ta said.

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