Gunshot sensor technology likely won’t be part of St. Paul’s crime response

St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter and Police Chief Todd Axtell
St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter (left) and Police Chief Todd Axtell hold a press conference on Sept. 10, 2019, in response to the recent gun violence in the city.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Updated 4:05 p.m.

St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter is unswayed by arguments that gunshot detection technology should be part of the city's response to a spike in gun violence and killings.

An email exchange between Carter and St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell revealed that Carter isn't considering the ShotSpotter technology, despite a state grant that would help pay for it.

Carter cited examples in other cities, saying the system resulted in few arrests, makes people unlikely to report gunfire when they hear it, and provides police with less actionable information.

“In the absence of independent empirical evidence to validate promotional claims, and particularly because the significant and long term financial commitment would limit available resources for provable interventions, I am unlikely to advance securing an AGDS system (acoustic gunfire detection system) to the city council,” says Carter’s email.

In his response, Axtell said the ShotSpotter system had improved police response times in other jurisdictions and helped with arrests and gathering evidence.

He also said other departments had documented less gunfire after ShotSpotter was rolled out.

“Like you, I urgently want to bring and leverage any new tool that has been proven to help communities reduce gunfire,” Axtell wrote. “As you can see, ShotSpotter is one such tool. I would hate to see us miss an opportunity to invest in something that can make a tangible difference in the day-to-day lives of the people we serve,” Axtell wrote.

Minneapolis uses gunshot detection technology, and St. Paul was considering an initial test along University Avenue and part of the east side. ShotSpotter was one of the technologies city officials mentioned as part of their proposed response to a deadly day in September when gunfire killed three people in a 24-hour period.

On Wednesday afternoon, Carter told City Council members that he’s seeking evidence-based solutions and, for now, that does not include gunshot detection technology.

He also said that adding five more police officers — spending that’s been debated as part of the the city budget — would not help and that he could not propose solutions based on “what feels right.”

MPR News reporter Nina Moini contributed to this story.

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