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Cilmi to table bill against Suffolk's ShotSpotter contract

Suffolk County Police Sgt. Peter Ervolina shows how

Suffolk County Police Sgt. Peter Ervolina shows how the ShotSpotter system registered two shots that were fired in a demonstration on Railroad Avenue in Huntington Station. (Dec. 22, 2011) Credit: James Carbone

A Suffolk lawmaker will postpone his efforts to cancel the county's contract with its high-tech gunshot locator after police pledged to address issues with the system's effectiveness.

Representatives of ShotSpotter, the county's contractor, met Tuesday with Suffolk police leaders and several legislators, including Legis. Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore), who had expressed alarm over recent county findings about the technology.

The June report disclosed that nearly two-thirds of the 212 gunshots identified by ShotSpotter between August 2012 and this March were unsubstantiated, with another 30 percent found to be false. The identified shots -- spanning five communities where the system is in place -- were confirmed as valid by police only 14 times, or 7 percent.

Unsubstantiated means police could not confirm that a shot had in fact been fired, and false means the alert was triggered by something else.

In response, Cilmi introduced a bill to cancel the county's ShotSpotter contract, which will cost about $334,000 next year to serve Huntington Station, Brentwood, Wyandanch and North Amityville. North Bellport, which has used the system since 2011, is funded through private donors.

"I need to see a willingness from both ShotSpotter and the county to make this more productive," Cilmi said after Tuesday's meeting. "To me, the next couple of months are critical."

Lydia Barrett, spokeswoman for Newark, Calif.-based ShotSpotter, called Suffolk police "an excellent customer" and said the company will "continue to work diligently with them to ensure that any issues are addressed and resolved."

The Suffolk police department's Chief of Support Services, Mark White, said the report wasn't intended to be critical.

"There's been no inference by the police department that ShotSpotter is not meeting its contractual obligation," White said. "We just need more data, and haven't come to any conclusions whether or not the system should continue on."

Cilmi said he will move to table his bill to cancel the contract at the next public safety committee meeting on Sept. 11.

The system, which has been lauded by Nassau police for its performance in Roosevelt and Uniondale, continues to have backers in Suffolk. Legis. Kate Browning (WF-Shirley), chairwoman of the public safety committee, said ShotSpotter, after the critical report, recently detected a North Bellport shot that led to an illegal weapon arrest.

"It's not a total failure, as much as some might want to think it is," Browning said. "There may be some discrepancies, but it's a good system."

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