COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Gunshot detection software will be installed at a Hilltop apartment complex long troubled by violence and dilapidated conditions, which the city attorney has called a place of “serious concern.”

Columbus City Council voted Monday to expand its contract with software provider ShotSpotter into the 0.64 square miles that cover the Wedgewood Village Apartments. The technology detects gunfire, its location, and its direction through triangulation.

The vote follows other city-led proposals to allocate resources toward Wedgewood in recent months, including through the installation of new security cameras on which Columbus police can access live feeds. 

“High number of calls” coming from Wedgewood

City Councilmember Emmanuel Remy, who chairs the public safety community, said Wednesday the vote stems from a high number of emergency calls in the area — and pleas from community advocates for assistance. 

Zerqa Abid — the executive director of nonprofit MY Project USA — told council members Monday she was all for the software addition in aiming to defray violence at Wedgewood. Increased police involvement at the apartments has been largely positive, Abid said. 

“We have seen the difference in the community because of this direct involvement and friendly work,” she said. 

Tenants at Wedgewood have endured dozens of shootings in recent years, sometimes fatal. 

In October, 36-year-old Krieg Butler fatally shot and killed 13-year-old Sinzae Reed at Wedgewood. A felony murder charge was dismissed days later against Butler, who has claimed the shooting was in self-defense. The case was still under investigation as of January, according to Columbus police.  

About $45,000 from the council’s general fund will go toward expanding ShotSpotter’s reach. 

The city of Columbus first entered into a contract with the service in 2018 and has since put more than $3.5 million into the program — which now covers close to 13 square miles of Columbus in a few neighborhoods, including parts of the Hilltop, Linden, and the south side. 

“We know this is just one tool in the toolbox that we utilize,” Remy said. “We’re going to continue to do what we need to do to decrease crime significantly across the city of Columbus.”

Mixed feelings about ShotSpotter technology, its effectiveness

Other advocates working in the area are not sold. 

Ramon Obey, a co-founder and community organizer with the West Side’s Justice, Unity, & Social Transformation, or JUST, said he and other organizers have heard about, and seen, the rats and cockroaches and trash that dot the apartment complex.

“I think every resident in Wedgewood doesn’t want crime, because no one wants to live around crime,” Obey said. But he said he believes the living conditions, which he said do little for tenants’ morale, need to be addressed as well. He also questioned the effectiveness of the tech. 

ShotSpotter, and its proponents, generally hold that the technology alerts officers to gunfire quicker, potentially saving lives in the process — with bystanders infrequent about calling 911 when they hear shots fired. Opponents have said the system is invasive and can be wrong, which sends officers to incidents already on high alert. 

ShotSpotter’s presence in Ohio cities is relatively mixed. The company holds contracts with more than 135 cities, according to its website, including Columbus, Cincinnati, and Cleveland, among other smaller cities.

But Dayton let a three-year contract with ShotSpotter lapse at the end of 2022. Police there cited some successes with the program but said it was challenging to scale how well it worked among other crime-prevention programs, according to a news release. 

“While the ShotSpotter area shows a more considerable decrease in violent crimes, this cannot be solely attributed to ShotSpotter’s effectiveness, as it was only one of the many tools used to combat violent crime in this area during this timeframe,” the release read.