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Deployment of Controversial Urban Sensor System Aided by Aggressive Lobbying

Published: March 27, 2015
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Source: The Intercept

“Is NYC’s new gunshot detection system recording private conversations?” asks Fusion in a recent story about ShotSpotter, a sensor technology currently being set up in the Bronx and Brooklyn.

ShotSpotter sensors use microphone and satellite technology to detect, locate and report gunshots to police. Critics worry that the microphones are prone to false alarms, and more troubling, appear to vacuum up street-level conversations in the neighborhoods where it has been installed. Evidence from conversations recorded by ShotSpotter microphones has been used to prosecute criminals in court.

While questions linger for watchdog and privacy groups about the use of ShotSpotter technology, an aggressive lobbying campaign has helped ensure the devices have been deployed in over 90 cities across the country.

The Ferguson Group, a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying firm, boasts that it secured more than $7 million in federal funding to support the purchase of ShotSpotter. “TFG has conversations with interested communities and discusses process and assesses viability of request [sic], drafts and provides briefing sheets to communities and submits requests to their House and Senate delegation,” reads a case study posted on The Ferguson Group’s website.

ShotSpotter contracts with four D.C. lobbying shops, including the powerhouse Squire Patton Boggs and the Raben Group, the firm that helps orchestrate Mayors Against Illegal Guns, an advocacy group closely aligned with former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg and various police unions across the country. The firm also has an array of local and state lobbyists on contract. In New York City, for instance, the company retained Greenberg Traurig in the past, and now works with a former aides to Sheldon Silver and Bloomberg through the firm Mercury Group Public Affairs.

The company’s approach is detailed in emails from Phil Dailly, Southeast Region Sales Director for ShotSpotter, to the City of Miami. Dailly references a supportive city resolution and lists viable funding mechanisms, including purchasing the technology through the Community Oriented Policing program, a special fund administered by the Department of Justice, or through police department asset forfeiture money, funds often raised through drug busts. Promotional materials also list the DOJ’s Justice Assistance Grant program, Public Housing Agencies and Community Benefit Funds as potential funding sources. The company retained two local lobbyists in Miami to help move the process along.

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