Portland won’t be implementing gunshot detection technology anytime soon.
Mayor Ted Wheeler announced Friday, June 2, that he and Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell decided not to move forward with the technology, which would have seen acoustic sensors placed on utility poles in targeted areas of the city.
The city will instead rely on a partnership with Cure Violence Global, to implement a Portland Ceasefire program.
“The Mayor and Chief determined now was not the time to proceed with a pilot proposal for [gunshot detection technology],” a statement from the mayor’s office reads. “This decision was based on community input, current staffing challenges at PPB, and the City’s plan to move forward with building our comprehensive gun violence strategy through Portland Ceasefire, partnership with Cure Violence Global to expand our street level outreach, and ongoing Office of Violence Prevention investments.”
The announcement followed a press conference the day prior, in which Wheeler and Lovell explained their decision.
The ceasefire program will bring in the National Institute of Criminal Justice Reform to help train police on combing over shooting incident reports and finding patterns or key data that could help prevent future gun violence. It will also dole out millions in funding to community organizations aimed at gun violence prevention. The Portland Ceasefire plan will also lean on Cure Violence Global’s community-based violence interruption tactics.
According to Cure Violence, the organization uses a public health approach, viewing violence “through an epidemiological lens, as a learned, transmissible behavior, which can be interrupted.”
The organization trains selected groups and “credible messengers” within a community, to identify and limit conflict, as part of a holistic approach to building healthy social norms, according to CVG’s evidence summaries.
Overall, the number of reported shootings from January to April in Portland is down, compared with 2022, and slightly lower than those reported in 2021.
An analysis of Portland’s gun violence problem conducted in 2020 concluded the majority of homicides involved “high-risk social networks” and the vast majority of victims and suspects were adults with previous involvement in the criminal justice system.
The analysis looked at four years of data, from 2015 to 2019.
Public skepticism fueled the city's decision to back off
In April, the community heard pitches from two gunshot detection tech companies–SoundThinking (formerly called ShotSpotter) and EAGL– who were both vying for a city contract. A pilot program was estimated to cost the city $70,000 to $85,000 per-square-mile.
Portlanders were skeptical about the effectiveness and accuracy of the technology, concerned about the surveillance aspect, and doubtful of its ability to help drive down rates of shootings.
Previously, the city auditor investigated SoundThinking's lobbying of the Portland Police Bureau, as the city was considering whether to purchase the company's products.
Before abandoning plans for the technology, the city commissioned Portland State University’s Criminal Justice Policy Research Institute to help poll a random sample of 23 neighborhoods that are most susceptible to gun violence, based on past police data.
Households were surveyed on whether they knew about the city’s consideration of a pilot program and whether the city should go forward with one. City commissioners also sent the poll to community groups, business and neighborhood associations, and staffers at City Hall.
Overall, the majority of those surveyed opposed gunshot detection technology. Those with more knowledge of the program and technology were more likely to be opposed, according to the survey results.
Wheeler indicated gunfire detection technology isn’t off the table for future implementation.
“The Mayor and Chief agree that the topic should be revisited in the future at a time when PPB staffing can better support GDT and we have the benefit of evaluating the results of our current efforts,” the announcement stated.