Chicago will not renew ShotSpotter contract, aldermen sound off

Chicago will end its contract with ShotSpotter this Friday, city officials announced on Tuesday.

The contract with SoundThinking, which owns the ShotSpotter gunshot detection technology, expires Friday. The technology will be decommissioned on Sept. 22, according to the release.

Until the technology is decommissioned, law enforcement and other leaders will suggest recommendations on other tools and programs to reduce violence, officials said in the statement.

When Mayor Brandon Johnson was running for office, he said he would cancel the city's $33 million contract with SoundThinking. At the time, he said he wanted to invest new resources in going after illegal guns.

In August 2021, a scathing report from the Office of the Inspector General raised serious questions about whether the Chicago Police Department should continue using ShotSpotter technology.

The report also questioned the quality of officers' responses to ShotSpotter alerts.

The Chicago Police Department and other agencies have long praised the system, saying it puts officers on the scene of shootings far faster than if they wait for someone to call 911 to report gunfire. In Chicago, its use was expanded in response to increases in violent crime; police say crime rates — not residents’ race — determine where the technology is deployed.

"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," the city's statement read. "Doing this work, in consultation with community, violence prevention organizations and law enforcement, provides a pathway to a better, stronger, safer Chicago for all."

Ralph Clark, CEO of SoundThinking, Inc., released the following statement in response to the decision:

"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%) 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."

Chicago alderman said with the police department down more than 2000 officers, many residents are not calling the police.

"We’re hear to tell the Mayor that he’s wrong. He needs to change and listen to the community," said Alderwoman Chris Taliaferro.

"Black and brown communities hear gunshots all the time. Some are immune to it. ShotSpotter saves lives. Why? Because police will still respond to those calls," said Alderman Anthony Beale.

Chicago's former top cop Garry McCarthy said, "I think it’s a bad decision."

Chicago police leaders have praised ShotSpotter. They argue that crime rates — not residents’ race — determine where the technology is deployed.

"Technology is where policing is going as a whole. If we’re not utilizing technology, then we fall behind in crime fighting," Police Superintendent Larry Snelling told The AP in an October interview. "There are always going to be issues. Nothing is 100% and nothing’s going to be perfect."

Violent crime, including homicides and shootings, has largely fallen across the country to about the same level as before the COVID-19 pandemic, though property crimes have risen in some places. In Chicago, the downward trend of violent crime has continued at the start of 2024 with a 30% drop in homicides. There were 39 through last week compared with 56 during the same period last year.

Chicago police declined comment Tuesday, directing questions to the mayor's office.

Community public safety groups argue that the system sends police officers to predominantly Black and Latino neighborhoods for often unnecessary and hostile encounters. Issues with accuracy, for instance when the technology has mistakenly identified fireworks or motorcycle sounds as gunshots, have prompted cities including Charlotte, North Carolina, and San Antonio, Texas, to end their ShotSpotter contracts.

The Stop ShotSpotter Coalition praised the announcement but said Chicago should stop using the technology sooner.

"Victims, survivors, their families and the communities with the highest rates of gun violence deserve more tangible support, resources and solutions that have been forgone due to investments in policing and technology that do not prevent or reduce violence," the coalition said in a Tuesday statement.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.