ShotSpotter contract to end nearly 3 years after I-Team raised doubts about effectiveness, value

ByChuck Goudie and Barb Markoff, Christine Tressel, and Tom Jones WLS logo
Wednesday, February 14, 2024
ShotSpotter contract to end nearly 3 years after I-Team investigation
How does ShotSpotter work? Almost three years ago, the I-Team found that no crimes were reported by Chicago police after 86% of its gunfire alerts.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Nearly three years after an I-Team data investigation raised serious doubts and questions about SpotShotter's effectiveness and value, the multi-million dollar technology-on-a-pole is being shot down by the Chicago mayor's office.

But it's not ending immediately. Even though the gunshot detection contract expires this week, ShotSpotter will continue through the summer.

When gunshots are detected the equipment under contract with city hall is to immediately send information to Chicago police and patrol officers are deployed to that area.

In 2021, the I-Team obtained and analyzed the 37,763 ShotSpotter alerts that had been recorded in Chicago. That 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 were shots detected, but no charges.

Our reporting was followed a few months later by an Inspector General's report on the $33 million technology that found less than one in ten ShotSpotter alerts actually found evidence of a gun crime.

The I-Team circled back with Chicago's Inspector General following Mayor Brandon Johnson's decision to scrap the ShotSpotter contract which will allow coverage only through the summer, including the Democratic National Convention.

SEE ALSO | ShotSpotter Chicago: How police use high-tech equipment to fight crime

"I don't know whether the public has been served that that's sort of where we landed in our analysis when we looked at ShotSpotter data back in 2021, was that the Chicago Police Department's data did not itself demonstrate a substantial operational benefit. And so because of the state of that data, I don't know whether Chicago has been well served over these last three years by the continued use of the technology," said Deborah Witzburg, Chicago's inspector general.

ShotSpotter supporters, including police and fire committee chair Alderman Chris Taliaferro, say the technology helps solve crimes.

"I think it has been an improvement from the traditional call to 911, which goes through a process before it's even dispatched out and once that dispatch occurs, You know, you've had you've lost valuable time and helping to save lives," he said.

Witzburg stressed the OIG's report really focused not on the technological accuracy of ShotSpotter itself, but rather its operational value to the Chicago Police Department.

READ MORE | Chicago Crime: What happens if city ends ShotSpotter contract? IL Answers Project takes a look

"We need to make sure that we are equipping members of the police department as best as we can to succeed in what is dangerous and challenging work and that we're doing everything we can to keep everybody safe in uniform and out," said Witzburg.

ShotSpotter corporate officials did not provide comment on losing their city contract, but this month on the company website did post a 17-page defense of the technology in Chicago, citing six years of positive protection; alerting police to gunfire, almost three-thousand guns and helping to save at least 125 lives.