Chicago ShotSpotter use could end early after company rejects brief extension, aldermen say

Liz Nagy Image
Thursday, February 15, 2024
ShotSpotter use could end early after extension rejected: aldermen
Chicago ShotSpotter use could end early after company representatives rejected briefly extending the technology's contract with CPD, aldermen said.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The controversial ShotSpotter technology used by Chicago police may get turned off as early as the end of the week.

On Tuesday, Mayor Brandon Johnson announced that he wanted to use the gun detection technology until the end of summer.

On Wednesday, multiple City Council members said they have spoken with representatives from ShotSpotter who have told them the company is rejecting the city's offer to extend the contract for another six months.

If that decision holds, ShotSpotter technology will be ineffective across the city as of 11:59 p.m. Friday night.

"We have two more days," said Ald. Brian Hopkins, chairman of the Public Safety Committee. "We have the business day of Thursday and the business day of Friday."

"We are in the process of taking away many of the tools that allow for violence to be reduced in our neighborhoods," said Ald. Chris Taliaferro.

Hopkins and several other alderpeople are hoping to plead their case to Mayor Brandon Johnson to strike a deal with ShotSpotter. Chicago police have used ShotSpotter technology for the last six years to respond to calls of gunfire going off.

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Proponents of the technology said this allows officers to respond much faster than waiting for calls through the traditional 911 system.

"It absolutely works. We had 44,000 incidents of gunfire detected last year," Hopkins said. "To suggest it doesn't work you'd have to believe that there were 44,000 cars that backfired, or 44,000 incidents of fireworks. That doesn't make."

But the technology has its critics as well. In 2021, the Office of the Inspector General found less than one in 10 ShotSpotter alerts found evidence of a gun crime. And activists have long said it leads to over policing and doesn't lead to arrests or convictions.

The city of Chicago has paid nearly $50 million over the last six years for the use of the technology.

On Tuesday, Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa supported the decision to end the use of the program.

The Stop ShotSpotter campaign has lobbied to disband ShotSpotter for years over complaints of over-policing.

"We can reimagine what safety really is. We don't need to keep centering police in our safety," said Nathan Palmer of the Stop ShotSpotter campaign.

But city leaders worry without gunshot detection alerts, Chicago's most violent months will be even worse.

The company behind ShotSpotter released a statement, saying:

"During our seven-year partnership, ShotSpotter has offered the City of Chicago a better way to quickly respond to criminal gunfire incidents to drive more efficient, effective, and equitable public safety outcomes. I want to reemphasize the importance of this technology and the positive impact it continues to make for the residents of Chicago. The most important measure of ShotSpotter's value is in lives saved. In the time that it has been deployed in Chicago, ShotSpotter has led police to locate hundreds of gunshot wound victims where there was no corresponding call to 911. Those are victims who most likely would not have received aid-if not for ShotSpotter.

"We are proud of the overwhelming support (82%1) across the City of Chicago for gunshot detection that helps victims receive aid more quickly. Further, we will never waiver in our commitment to the innovations that help save lives. We are extremely proud of the work we do and are grateful to serve the citizens and families of Chicago by helping to address the tragic plague of gun violence."

The mayor's office has not responded to calls for comment.

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