Miami-Dade Police Testing Same Shady Gunshot Detection System That Broward Just Scrapped

​Samuel Beckett once said: "Fail again. Fail better."

Waiting for Godot must be a best seller among county cops. Just a week after the Broward Sheriffs announced that they were scrapping a much-touted $500,000 gunshot detection system because... um, it didn't really work, Miami-Dade police say they are currently installing a test version of the exact same technology.

Miami-Dade police insist they have fixed the bugs, but the ShotSpotter system still raises a bunch of questions.

County Commissioner Joe Martinez was the first to propose bringing ShotSpotter to Miami-Dade. He commissioned a feasibility study on the idea this past May. "This is something that can save lives," he said.

At the time, we wrote about worries that the coffee-can-sized sensors could catch more than just gunfire.

"It's not far-fetched that this equipment will also pick up conversations," fellow county Commissioner Barbara Jordan said. "I'm very concerned about our personal rights."

Miami-Dade police now say that they are testing out ShotSpotter and could have the controversial system up and running sometime next year.

"We have one that is on a trial basis," confirmed Detective Álvaro Zabaleta. "We got it from the FBI as a loaner, to try, so it's not going to cost anything. But it's still not implemented as of yet."

But ShotSpotter arrives here just as MDPD's northern neighbors, the Broward Sheriff's Office, is ditching the same equipment. Almost exactly a year after introducing the gunshot detection system to great fanfare -- again on loan from the FBI -- the BSO decided "it wasn't cost effective" to keep the program.

The Sun Sentinel, however, gave the real reasons for scrapping ShotSpotter:

The Sheriff's Office began encountering glitches, mostly because the system was picking up noises such as firecrackers or a backfiring car and registering those sounds as gunfire. The sensors were also triggered by helicopters and the roar of downshifting trucks from nearby Interstate 95.
Zabaleta insists that Miami-Dade Police aren't just getting Broward's ShotSpotter sloppy seconds.

"There have been enhancements done to the program addressing the glitches," he says. "Any new product is going to have glitches... Broward may have their reasons that it didn't work out for them. But we are carefully looking at it and analyzing it, and applying it in ways that we feel it will be most successful for us."
vBut even that may be problematic. Back in May, Commissioner Martinez said that in order to afford ShotSpotter's monthly fees, Miami-Dade would likely restrict the gunshot detection system to high-crime areas like Overtown and Liberty City.

Yet, after seven deadly police-involved shootings in those neighborhoods in a six-month period, how warmly will residents take to the idea of police listening to (and if the ShotSpotter system includes video, watching) them?

Zabaleta says it's all about improving police work.

"We've been provided a tool we want that tool to be helpful," he says. "But if we find that it's not being efficient and helping law enforcement in the ways it was supposed to, of course we're not going to keep it."

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Michael E. Miller was a staff writer at Miami New Times for five years. His work for New Times won many national awards, including back-to-back-to-back Sigma Delta Chi medallions. He now covers local enterprise for the Washington Post.