The Durham Police Department has released new information regarding the city’s forthcoming deployment of ShotSpotter, a gunfire-detection technology that uses hidden microphones to alert law enforcement of the location where a shot was fired.

ShotSpotter is coming to Durham as a year-long $197,500 pilot program. The technology will be installed in a three-mile area that covers parts of east and southeast Durham and is expected to go live in mid-September, according to a July 29 news release. 

To evaluate the efficacy of the pilot, Durham police will partner with Duke University to compare data from the deployment area with data from a similarly sized region of Durham that does not implement ShotSpotter. (Specific metrics are not listed, though one would hope the evaluation includes feedback from community members in the deployment area as well as quantitative data regarding the technology’s accuracy rate and impact on response times and evidence collection.)

Between now and September 15, the police department plans to meet with community members and Partners Against Crime groups to address concerns about the technology. 

As the INDY previously reported, ShotSpotter has been a hot-button issue among Durham leaders, residents, and activist groups in the three years since the company pitched its services to city officials, with many pointing to failed ShotSpotter pilots in other jurisdictions and arguing that the technology leads to over-policing in communities of color.

At a ShotSpotter community forum in June, Durham city council member Mark-Anthony Middleton—a vocal proponent of the technology—asserted that ShotSpotter’s lack of visual surveillance largely removes any potential for racial profiling.

“Going to the sound of gunfire is not over-policing,” Middleton said. “The ShotSpotter sensors cannot tell whether or not you’re wearing a hoodie. They can’t tell whether you’re Black or white. They can’t tell whether you’re carrying Skittles and an iced tea. You need human beings to do that. The sensors respond to crossing an acoustical threshold.”

But given that the sensors will be installed in a majority-Black area of the city, Middleton’s “color blind” argument seems somewhat irrelevant. The three-mile region was presumably selected due to its high violent crime rate, but critics contend that taxpayer money would be better spent enriching the community with things like housing security, a guaranteed living wage, and mental health resources—all of which are connected to lowered gun violence—instead of funding technology that, according to a 2021 study from the MacArthur Justice Center, has no effect on reducing crime.

At the community discussion in June, ShotSpotter CEO Ralph Clark argued that his company combats gun violence by enabling law enforcement to lock up the handful of bad apples who are behind most shootings. 

“There’s a very small number of people that are disproportionately responsible for most of the gun violence,” Clark said. “So the more quickly we can identify who those few people are—through very consistent, robust response, and investigation, and follow-through—the more quickly we can take those individuals off the street.”

Support independent local journalism. Join the INDY Press Club to help us keep fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle. 

Follow Staff Writer Lena Geller on Twitter or send an email to