Councilman wants to help residents affected by gunfire

George Hunter
The Detroit News

A Detroit city councilman unveiled a plan Wednesday to use technology to help fight crime and provide social services to residents in need.

Scott Benson rolled out Operation Shot Spotter, in which community volunteers will monitor gun shots that are fired, and then visit the location after a three-day cooling off period.

Benson said his office is working with Shot Spotter, manufacturer of the technology which detects gunfire via microphones deployed in parts of the city, including Benson’s 3rd District on the northeast side.

“My office gets email alerts whenever a shot is detected,” Benson said before Wednesday’s press conference at Joshua Temple Church of God in Christ, one of several community organizations partnering in the operation.

The Detroit Police last year rolled out a pilot program in which Shot Spotter sensors were installed in undisclosed areas of the city, including the east side. The manufacturer of the sensors, SST Inc., provided the sensors at no cost as part of the program.

Detroit tried to install the technology in 2011 when former Mayor Dave Bing pushed for the city to sign a three-year, $2.6 million contract to use ShotSpotter. But the City Council rejected the measure, 5-4, because opponents said they would rather use the money to hire police officers.

Detroit Police Sgt. Michael Woody said in the year that Shot Spotter has been used, it’s helped police to pinpoint from where shots are coming.

“We’re very grateful to have this technology in the city,” Woody said. “It’s been very useful in the way we deploy manpower, and we’re happy to support the councilman in this effort.”

When shots are fired in the district, Benson said two volunteers will visit the location.

“These are gunshots, so we want to wait three days to let things cool down,” he said. “This lets the community know that we’re watching them, and that someone cares.”

The volunteers will also provide phone numbers for social services, Crime Stoppers of Michigan, and other resources, Benson said. Benson’s office usually gets two or three emails a week from Shot Spotter, informing him of an average of six or seven shootings.

Volunteers have begun knocking on doors where shots were fired, Benson said. “So far, the reception has been fantastic,” he said. “People like that we’re engaged.”

Benson said he will work with Detroit Police on the project, although the police department is not officially affiliated with it.

“Before we knock on someone’s door, we’ll coordinate that with the police, to make sure everyone’s safe,” he said. “Maybe the police will tell us this isn’t a door we should be knocking on, if there’s an active investigation into that location, or if they’re planning (a raid) there.

“This is a humanitarian effort, not law enforcement. It’s different having a neighbor knocking on your door vs. a police officer.”

The effort will cost taxpayers nothing, Benson said. “This is all volunteer,” he said. “Our budget is zero.”

George Preston, a resident of the Mohican Regent neighborhood near Gratiot, who is part of the neighborhood patrol, said he wants to keep his neighborhood safe, and thinks the program will help.

“Over 25 years ago, I was looking for a nice home in a nice neighborhood,” he said. “This area has been pretty stable, and I want to keep it stable. This is our neighborhood, and we’re going to stand up and be in charge.”

Among the community groups involved in the effort include: Detroit 300, the Marcus Garvey Movement, CeaseFire, and the Mohican Regent Residents Association.

Malik Shabazz, head of the Marcus Garvey Movement, said the effort’s aim is to get residents where shots were fired the help they need by providing information about food programs, and programs for the homeless and elderly. “We want to come with love on the front end,” he said. “If that doesn’t work, then they get five-o (slang for the police).”

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