Chicago will not renew controversial ShotSpotter contract, drawing support, criticism from aldermen

Wednesday, February 14, 2024
Chicago will not renew controversial ShotSpotter contract
Chicago is not renewing its multi-million-dollar contract with ShotSpotter, which was set to expire this month. The tech is used to detect shootings.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Chicago is not renewing its contract with ShotSpotter after this summer, the mayor's office said.

Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson's office released a statement Tuesday morning, saying the multi-million-dollar contract, which was set to expire Friday, will be extended through Sept. 22, but end after that.

The gunfire detection system, initially embraced by police, has been criticized for allegedly being too costly and ineffective.

The city has used the controversial service since 2018, to alert police to gunshots. It's cost the city roughly $49 million.

Mayor Johnson vowed during the mayoral campaign that he would cancel the contract with SoundThinking - the company behind ShotSpotter.

But Johnson's decision is drawing mixed reviews.

Supporters said the tech helped police better respond to shootings, but critics said it never worked the way it was touted to.

ShotSpotter was hailed as a tool to help police respond to shootings faster by detecting the sound of gunshots and automatically alerting police, sometimes before a 911 call.

Supporters said not renewing the contract will hurt communities most impacted by gun violence.

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

"I feel that it's going to be detrimental. Because if there is no 911 call, perhaps we have someone laying in an apartment, on the ground, in an alley, on the street," said Alderman Chris Taliaferro, chair of the police and fire committee. "Well, we need ShotSpotter in communities like the OSU community, where I average a murder every week and a half. And I know a lot of the critics of ShotSpotter don't reside in these neighborhoods."

Those supporters claim that the technology speeds police response, which saves lives.

"All the data you talking about does not always show what we see out here in these streets," said 17th Ward Ald. David Moore.

But critics point to the police shooting of Adam Toledo as a catalyst that eventually led to Tuesday's decision: Police began chasing the 13-year-old and eventually fatally shooting him after a ShotSpotter alert.

"We all want to make our community safe. And so we need to look at what does the evidence say? What actually increases public safety? And the research is pretty clear at this point: ShotSpotter does not lead to a reduction in gun violence in our communities," 35th Ward Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa said. "I started to do research, and there were a lot of red flags. And after our city's Inspector General came up with a report that found that less than one in 10 ShotSpotter reports actually led to verified gunshots. To me, that was pretty clear evidence that this technology was faulty."

A 2021 report by the Chicago Inspector General found only 9% of gunshot alerts were ever linked to gun-related crimes.

Nathan Palmer is part of the Stop ShotSpotter Campaign, which, for years has pressed the city to end use of the technology.

"This is the first step to free up funds that have been only viewed as being able to be used by the police," Palmer said.

The contract extension will take the city through the usually more violent summer months and the Democratic National Convention.

"Why if ShotSpotter is so bad, why are you waiting until after the convention?" said 9th Ward Ald. Anthony Beale.

The extension also gives police time to adjust.

One West Side pastor hopes the money saved will be put to good use.

"You know investment and preventative programs in relationships with the community, and things that are going to actually help young people not get started on that path," said the Rev. Marshall Hatch, with New Mount Pilgrim Baptist Church.

During a recent public meeting about ShotSpotter, the company's president addressed concerns, but said the technology has exceeded accuracy requirements under the contract.

"ShotSpotter is not a perfect technology; I don't know that any technology is perfect," SoundThinking President Ralph Clark said.

Supporters worry doing away with ShotSpotter could lead to an increase in violence, but others say the money could be used for different things, like more license plate reading technology to help respond to carjackings.

Read Johnson's full statement below:

"The City of Chicago will not renew its contract with SoundThinking that expires February 16, 2024, and will decommission the use of ShotSpotter technology on September 22, 2024. During the interim period, law enforcement and other community safety stakeholders will assess tools and programs that effectively increase both safety and trust, and issue recommendations to that effect.
"In advance of the decommissioning in September, the Chicago Police Department will work to revamp operations within the Strategic Decision Support Centers, implement new training and further develop response models to gun violence that ultimately reduce shootings and increase accountability.

"Moving forward, the City of Chicago will deploy its resources on the most effective strategies and tactics proven to accelerate the current downward trend in violent crime. Doing this work, in consultation with community, violence prevention organizations and law enforcement, provides a pathway to a better, stronger, safer Chicago for all."

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