The Savannah City Council discusses the ShotSpotter gunshot detection system during its meeting on April 14.

The Savannah City Council discusses the ShotSpotter gunshot detection system during its meeting on April 14.

Credit: City of Savannah

The Savannah City Council voted unanimously Thursday to expand its network of ShotSpotter acoustic sensors meant to help police officers quickly pinpoint the precise location of gunfire, despite the technology coming under criticism from some police reform advocates.

The modified contract with ShotSpotter Inc. nearly doubles the city's coverage from its current four square miles to seven-and-a-half square miles. The city will now be spending about $520,000 annually on the technology, according to the Savannah Police Department.

“This is all about holding illegal gunfire accountable, wherever it happens,” Alderman Nick Palumbo said during the City Council meeting. “And that's going to be very difficult for a technology as expensive as this one, but we're stepping up to the plate to do that.”

Some critics say that kind of money would be better spent elsewhere: the police reform organization Campaign Zero this month launched a nationwide campaign urging cities to stop using the proprietary technology, saying that the company's claims of effectiveness are not substantiated by independent testing.

Campaign Zero points to a 2021 peer-reviewed study in the Journal of Urban Health which found that ShotSpotter has no significant impact on firearm-related homicides or arrest outcomes.

The study's researchers concluded that “if this investment is not reducing gun-related crime or deaths, nor improving arrest rates of perpetrators, then the expenses associated with implementing and maintaining [gunshot-detection technology] may be adding to the cost of gun violence rather than reducing it. In fact, there is a lack of evidence to support a return on investment (monetary or otherwise) from implementing this technology.”

During their meeting, Savannah City Council members voiced enthusiastic support for ShotSpotter, which the city first deployed in 2015.

“We know that it's simply capturing crime — it doesn't stop or prevent crime,” Alderwoman Kesha Gibson-Carter said. “There's a lot of talk about defunding the police, but I want to say that, as a fiscal agent of the city of Savannah, this is money well spent. And I hope that we will get to the place where we can expend more, particularly as it relates to cameras and lights in some of our more vulnerable areas.”

The $255,000 expansion of ShotSpotter comes amid a recent spate of officer-involved shootings in Savannah, although the money was already earmarked in the city's 2022 budget prior to these shootings.

In addition to the city's sensors, the Savannah College of Art and Design maintains its own ShotSpotter network, which covers a separate area of two square miles.