Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Spat Rises over Gunshot Detection, Cameras

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Spat Rises over Gunshot Detection, Cameras

Article excerpt

Pittsburgh City Councilman Ricky Burgess began Wednesday's meeting with an emotional plea for members to support his proposal to bring a gunshot detection and surveillance camera system to his district, evoking the names of homicide victims and referencing violent incidents from the past few months that he said underscore the need for the high-tech equipment.

"How much is the value of a human life? That is the question that we as a city and a council must answer today," he said.

And while the proposal received unanimous approval in a preliminary vote, it drew criticism from members of council who were uneasy that the $1.15 million project was not put out for a competitive bid, a process that may have opened the door for different vendors to give the city a better deal. Instead, two companies with whom the city already has a contract are slated to take on the job.

"I disagree with the concept of not bidding this out," Councilman Patrick Dowd said, who was not present for Wednesday's preliminary vote. He called the project a "distraction" from what he believes to be the real problem: the dearth of police officers in Zone 5, a sprawling precinct that covers Homewood and much of Mr. Dowd's district.

In a debate that frequently turned emotional, Mr. Burgess accused the critics of being unsympathetic to the plight of his district by holding up the project on what he called "hypertechnical issues." Legislation to buy the ShotSpotter equipment, introduced in mid- February, is still pending after it was held by Mr. Burgess for several weeks.

"As you try to bid it, how many more lives will we lose in Homewood while we play games?" he said.

Instead of using a competitive bidding process, the proposal calls for using extending a 4-year-old city contract with Avrio RMS and ShotSpotter. Avrio will install up to 60 high-definition pan- tilt-zoom cameras in a 3-square-mile area centered around Homewood at a cost of $1 million. ShotSpotter will install up to 54 gunshot detectors in the same area and operate the system for $150,000 a year.

Shawn Carter, the chief of staff for Mr. Burgess, said that if the legislation is green-lighted, they plan to draw up a supplemental agreement to extend the original contract with the two companies to include Homewood project.

But the original contract with Avrio was approved by council in 2009 and was for a project that would install several dozen cameras across the city, with a focus on bridges and ports. It was largely funded with state money and a port security grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and included an option for ShotSpotter. The Homewood project will be funded with capital funds from next year's budget, a maneuver the city can manage because it will likely have a surplus this year.

Mr. Dowd believes Mr. Burgess' proposal twists the intent of the original contract. …

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