With Newark Homicides Rising, District Equips Mostly-Black Schools with Gunshot Detectors

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Newark Public Schools, responding to a doubling of homicides in the city compared to the same time last year, is installing a technology called ShotSpotter on 34 school buildings that will quickly notify police when guns are fired.

Thirty of the 34 school buildings chosen for this alert system serve predominantly Black students in the South, Central and West wards while only four are in the Hispanic East and North wards.  Across Newark district schools 40% of students are Black but the buildings chosen for ShotSpotter are 70% Black.

Patrick Wall of Chalkbeat reports,

Some critics question the technology’s usefulness, citing studies that find the devices drive up gunfire notifications but rarely lead to arrests. Advocates have also raised civil rights concerns, saying ShotSpotter sensors draw armed police into primarily Black and Hispanic neighborhoods in pursuit of shooters who are rarely apprehended.

Wall was able to identify the 34 school buildings through information provided by ShotSpotter and the written agreement posted on the district website. When Wall emailed questions to the district, the agreement disappeared from the district website.

The community appears to have mixed feelings about this technology. Gloria Johnson, a grandmother in the South Ward, said approvingly, “If they can be here immediately as soon as the gunfire goes off, without someone calling they might have a chance of catching the criminal or saving the life of the victim.”

But Retha Onitiri, community engagement director at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, said the technology adds to the “over-policing” of Black and brown communities and deploys officers to scenes where they often find no evidence of a crime. Rather than paying for additional surveillance tools, she said, “We need to invest in young people, we need to invest in schools, we need to invest in communities.”

 

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