Every Map Is the Same Map: ShotSpotter Edition

I think often of a post that I saw one time: “firing shots into the air to keep the rent down.” Shotspotters are microphones that are wired up to tell the police when they hear something that sounds like a gun firing in the area.

The linked Wired article below describes how these microphones are deployed throughout the United States, mostly by one company called SoundThinking, and how they obtained the mapping data (an informant who requires anonymity). It also discusses that the map demonstrates a bias for microphone placement: “Nearly three-quarters of these neighborhoods are majority nonwhite, and the average household earns a little more than $50,000 a year.”

Who would have guessed it? The local angle holds up: ShotSpotters are only in the same neighborhoods that have been marginalized since before redlining was invented, with two exceptions: Elliot Park didn’t get any, and neither did Seward.

The greater north minneapolis area and the phillips and adjacent neighborhoods over south are covered in red dots. 

Leaked locations of SoundThinking's Sensors: A leaked document exposes the extensive reach of the company formerly known as Shotspotter's network of sensors. It reveals the locations of 25,500 gunshot detection microphones. I zoomed in on our metro area.


This is an absolutely stellar real-world example of confirmation bias. If you look for shots being fired, you’ll find them wherever you go in this gun-loving society. Then you can talk about increases in shots fired in the neighborhoods where you put up the microphones (backed by Objective Data!), while leaving out the neighborhoods that don’t have microphones. Reporting back on this data will mislead folks into thinking that those unmeasured neighborhoods have no “crime” to speak of, and certainly not quantifiable, year-over-year trends.

Summary “every map is the same map” post by your friend and mine, Tom Basgen, whose only flaw in this article is not including Minneapolis in the maps reviewed in detail: https://streets.mn/2020/06/25/every-map-is-the-same-map/

Other entries in the “every map is the same map” series (can you tell I miss Map Mondays?):

And the underlying tool that drives most of these maps: https://www.mncompass.org/profiles/neighborhoods/minneapolis-saint-paul

Anyway, if you’re looking to commit some gun crimes, the map above shows the neighborhoods to avoid. Or, if you’re looking to bring some equality to the maps, one way to do it would be to cancel MPD’s SoundThinking contracts.

Pine Salica

About Pine Salica

Pine lives in Minneapolis and works in Saint Paul. Pine hasn't owned a car for over a dozen years, and can count on one hand the number of times they've operated one in the last 12 months. Housing is a human right, car storage is not. Member of the Climate Committee.