Gunshot detection tech on hold in Schenectady

Money for project held up for now
A gun shot detector above Craig and Stanley streets in Schenectady last week
A gun shot detector above Craig and Stanley streets in Schenectady last week

Categories: News, Schenectady County

SCHENECTADY — With society dogged by unease, gunshot detection technology that was scheduled to be deployed in city hotspots this year has been postponed. 

The City Council had authorized funding of ShotSpotter, which triangulates gunfire through microphones and sends locations to officers’ smartphones, during last year’s budget process. 

But the allocation is wrapped in the $8.75 million sale of capital bonds lawmakers tabled in April, citing financial fallout from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. 

“Not taking any formal action means that I don’t have the money,” said Mayor Gary McCarthy. 

Chief Eric Clifford said he didn’t want to weigh in on the impasse.

But the technology would be useful, he said, particularly at a time when McCarthy has floated slashing between 30 and 40 officer positions in the absence of a federal relief package for state and local governments. 

Clifford has said gun-detection technology is useful because not all shots-fired calls are reported and shootings oftentimes are unknown until victims show up at local hospitals with gunshot wounds.

Long term, the chief envisions linking city and county camera systems, which would further enhance investigations. 

“I’m a believer in that technology,” Clifford said. “I would like to see the City Council continue the course that they’re on and deploy that technology citywide.”

The pause comes amid deepening national civil unrest and two homicides within four days last month. 

City police initially aimed to deploy the sensors in high-risk neighborhoods that generate the most shots-fired calls, including Hamilton Hill, where Duane Todman was gunned down last month.

Some of the devices will be located on National Grid’s LED streetlights, one of which overlooks the intersection where Todman was fatally shot. 

City Council voted to table selling the bonds 4-3, dealing a blow to McCarthy.

While he agrees with the budgetary concerns, Councilman John Polimeni wants to move forward with the package, which also includes continuing deployment of the city’s Wi-Fi network. 

“The Smart Cities technology has already been useful and the more we get implemented and the quicker we get it up, the better the ability for our Public Safety and Fire Department to assist citizens,” Polimeni said. 

City Council President John Mootooveren agrees the technology is critical, and said he’s opposed to any cuts to police or fire personnel. 

But he stressed the need to wait until the full financial ramifications of the pandemic are known.

The city faces shortfalls of at least $11.6 million. 

“We intend to revisit the capital budget expenditure as soon as the city is back up and operational,” Mootooveren said. “We intend to address that and move forward. At this time, that proposal is on hold. There are no intentions to cut anything.”

Smart Cities expenditures account for $2 million of the broader $8.7 million package.

The city has earmarked $5 million for the initiative since 2017, with $2.7 million remaining as of Tuesday. 

Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo supports hitting the pause button. 

But it may be possible to allocate some funds for gunshot technology using some unspent funding while holding off on additional expenditures, she said.

“We should look at the list of projects and decide what is the priority at this juncture,” Perazzo said. 

Lawmakers didn’t discuss ShotSpotter at their meeting on Monday.

But they did implore McCarthy to remove the message visitors encounter when accessing the city’s Wi-Fi network, warning users that city lawmakers are “looking to cut the funding and reduce or eliminate the service” alongside a list of their names and phone numbers.

“We would ask very nicely and almost demand this gets removed as soon as possible, sir,” said Councilman Ed Kosiur.

“We’ll adjust it tomorrow,” McCarthy said.

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