Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Gunshot-Tracking vs. Helicopters

Chief Ralph Godbee of the Detroit Police Department would like to spend $2.6 million for gunshot-tracking technology that would enable his officers to respond much more quickly and accurately to any situation where shots were fired. I was skeptical of this technology from a California company called ShotSpotter, until I saw a demonstration of it approximately three years ago. Quite frankly, it works.

Of course, before he can buy this technology, Chief Godbee needs approval from the City Council - and that's where the current problem is. Council President Pro Tem Gary Brown wants to spend the money to buy a police helicopter. The Detroit Police Department, after all, no longer has an aviation unit.

Both helicopters and gunshot-tracking technology have a place in a modern police department. Technology like ShotSpotter fills a very specific void in enabling officers to respond faster and better to a situation where shots are fired. Helicopters are more generalized solution that enable improved performance to a wide variety of situations, which is important because not all threats to public safety involve firearms.

As the City Council and Mayor Dave Bing weigh the pros and cons of this decision, I would like to remind everyone that there is a way in which we could have both helicopters that Councilman Brown wants and the ShotSpotter technology that Chief Godbee wants.

Back in July, I sent Mayor Bing and others a letter in which I recommended a series of ways in which the City of Detroit could do things more efficiently without harming the services that it is charged with delivering. None of those proposals have been implemented nor, by the way, did Mayor Bing respond to my letter.

If the Detroit Police Department were to eliminate the Office of the Deputy Chief of the Management Services Bureau, that would free up $8.3 million from the Department's annual budget. This along with the forfeiture money that Chief Godbee wants to spend would be enough to acquire and deploy ShotSpotter technology. It would also give us enough money to buy at least one police helicopter; re-establishing the Department's Aviation Unit. Plus, we would also have a few million left over to buy a couple hundred new patrol cars, hire more officers for patrol duty, or do any number of other things.

And we would still have the Office of the Assistant Chief - Administration to oversee all of the Department's back office operations.

I encourage the City Council and the Administration to knuckle down, put aside their differences, and find a way in which we can meet all of this city's needs.
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