Chicago IG report finds CPD investigations of ShotSpotter alerts 'rarely' find gun crimes

ByChuck Goudie and Barb Markoff, Christine Tressel, Ross Weidner and Jonathan Fagg WLS logo
Wednesday, August 25, 2021
Chicago IG report finds CPD investigations of ShotSpotter alerts 'rarely' find gun crimes
A Chicago Inspector General report found issues with the way the Chicago Police Department responds to ShotSpotter reports.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Nearly four months after a data investigation by our ABC7 I-Team challenged the way Chicago police respond to ShotSpotter technology, there is a new scathing report from the city's Inspector General with similar findings.

The ShotSpotter technology is spread across South and West side neighborhoods and is supposed to continually be on guard for the sound of gunfire-at a cost of at least $33 million. The new report from Chicago's Inspector General backs up what the I-Team first reported last May: that the vast majority of gunshot alerts produced by ShotSpotter do not result in evidence of gun crimes-or gun charges.

The new report from Chicago's top watchdog finds that "CPD responses to ShotSpotter alerts rarely produce evidence of a gun-related crime, rarely give rise to investigatory stops, and even less frequently lead to the recovery of gun crime-related evidence during an investigatory stop."

The OIG analyzed 50,176 ShotSpotter alerts that occurred between January 1, 2020 and May 31, 2021 as well as the "investigatory stops confirmed to be associated with CPD's response to a ShotSpotter alert." The OIG says their report found that in 9.1% of the CPD responses to ShotSpotter alerts, officers found "evidence of a gun-related criminal offense."

CLICK HERE to read the full OIG report

"We found based on the CPD data that we analyzed that only in a very small percentage of cases could those records those CPD records demonstrate a link between a ShotSpotter alert, and a sort of law enforcement outcome, a measurable investigative benefit," said Deborah Witzburg, Deputy Inspector General, City of Chicago.

Last May, the I-Team obtained and analyzed the more than 37,000 ShotSpotter alerts recorded in Chicago since January 2020. Our data investigation revealed that in more than 32,000 of those incidents-- when the system apparently detected gunfire -- police responded but didn't report a crime. That's 86% of the time.

"There are real safety risks associated with sending police officers into fast paced high stakes responses with very little information about what they will find when they get there. And all of those risks and costs should be appropriately weighed against a sober assessment of the operational value of the law enforcement utility of the tool," Witzburg told the I-Team.

"There needs to be a public airing in the daylight about this technology and so we'd urge city council and aldermen and women all over the city, to really look at this and especially older people in the words where their residents are highly affected, but really this is an issue for all Chicagoans, everybody should be invested in making sure police are not acting in a discriminatory way," Alexa Van Brunt, MacArthur Justice Center told the I-Team.

Chicago police officials defend the ShotSpotter technology, saying it enables "patrol officers to arrive at a precise location of a shooting event quickly." ShotSpotter did not respond to I-Team messages. City officials late last year extended their contract with ShotSpotter. It now runs through mid-August of 2023.

Full CPD Statement:

In order to reduce gun violence, knowing where it occurs is crucial. ShotSpotter has detected hundreds of shootings that would have otherwise gone unreported. ShotSpotter is among a host of tools used by the Chicago Police Department to keep the public safe and ultimately save lives. Using ShotSpotter, CPD receives real-time alerts of detected gunfire enabling patrol officers to arrive at a precise location of a shooting event quickly. Instead of relying on the historically low rate of 911 calls, law enforcement can respond more quickly to locate and aid victims, identify witnesses, and collect forensic evidence. The system gives police the opportunity to reassure communities that law enforcement is there to serve and protect them and helps to build bridges with residents who wish to remain anonymous.