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ShotSpotter and changes to Behavioral Health Team discussed at Police Oversight meeting

Changes would expand hours the Behavioral Health Team are available until 11 p.m., 7 days a week.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Police Department is looking to expand its Behavioral Health Team that responds to mental health calls alongside officers.

Right now the Behavioral Health Team is only available Monday through Friday, and police want to use American Rescue Plan Act funds to expand their coverage. 

"Through this various grant funding and ARPA money, we are looking to aggressively expand the hours seven days a week and even expand the hours that they are working," police commissioner Joe Gramaglia said.

He told the city's police oversight committee on Wednesday that 63 percent of the calls the team responded to last year ended with no arrest or no transport to the hospital.

Captain Amber Beyer, who leads the behavioral health team, spoke to the committee about how the department can expand coverage of the team. 

"If we had coverage from 6 o'clock in the morning until 1:30 in the morning, we would be able to answer about 90% of the Mental Health calls," Captain Beyer said. "Currently, with the hours that we're operating, we are able to answer about little over 60% of the Mental Health calls that are coming out."

Captain Beyer said they are able to currently cover the costs of expanding the team to 11 p.m.

On the topic of ShotSpotter, Commissioner Gramaglia spoke at length about the technology.

"When it detects that noise that mimics a gunshot, it sends that sound to Denver, I believe is where they're headquartered, then they have people that are in there to make a determination and then get that back out to the department," Gramaglia said. "They have a one-minute turnaround time from the time of that shot being fired to determine to the best of their ability that is a gunshot and not a car backfiring or fireworks."

A spokesperson for ShotSpotter reached out to WGRZ to correct Commissioner Gramaglia's incorrect claim that the company is based in Denver. ShotSpotter is based in Fremont, California. 

Councilmember Ulysees Wingo pressed Gramaglia on the effectiveness of ShotSpotter. 

"Have they provided any data, empirical data, that will suggest or show or prove that ShotSpotter technology increases the likelihood of an apprehension of a suspect," Councilman Wingo asked Gramaglia.

The commissioner did not provide any specific data about the effectiveness of increasing the amount of gun-related arrests by using ShotSpotter but rather continued to discuss the technology itself. Gramaglia mentioned the technology allegedly helped Pittsburgh police officers respond to a mass shooting at a party.

"We saw where there was an Airbnb party that result in I believe it was 11 people shot with two teenagers that were fatally shot," Gramaglia said. "From what I heard, it was ShotSpotter that initially brought officers to that location or got them en route to that location, beating the 911 call."

Regarding its effectiveness, a ShotSpotter spokesperson told 2 On Your Side that "ShotSpotter is an effective tool in helping to save lives, capture critical evidence, improve public safety, and bolster community trust. Although not every ShotSpotter alert leads to an immediate arrest, studies have shown it’s a critical part of a comprehensive gun crime response strategy."

A 2021 report by the MacArthur Justice Center at Northwestern University's Pritzker School of Law revealed that the Chicago Police were dispatched to over 40,000 unnecessarily between July 2019 and April 2021. Those "dead-end deployments" resulted in no evidence of gunfire or any gun-related crime.

ShotSpotter has publicly rejected the findings in the MacArthur report. 

"The MacArthur Justice Center Report draws erroneous conclusions from researchers’ interpretation of police report categorizations, falsely equating them with no shots fired. Of note, the MacArthur Justice Center was compiled by student volunteers rather than by expert researchers," said a ShotSpotter spokesperson. 

It's unclear how soon the Buffalo Police want to implement the technology. Gramaglia said the department has been given presentations by ShotSpotter regarding its technology.