Chicago Shifts Crime Detection Approach: Mayor’s Office Ends ShotSpotter Contract Amidst Criticism

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Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson’s office announced Tuesday that the city will end its contract with ShotSpotter, a gunshot detection system, later this year.

The decision comes amid criticism of the system’s inaccuracy, potential racial bias, and instances of law enforcement misuse.

ShotSpotter employs an artificial intelligence algorithm and a network of microphones to identify gunshots, but its reliability has been questioned. An Associated Press investigation highlighted a case where a Chicago man was jailed based on scant ShotSpotter-generated evidence, only to be later released due to insufficient evidence.

The city’s contract with SoundThinking, the public safety technology company behind ShotSpotter, expires on Friday. Chicago, which has spent $49 million on ShotSpotter since 2018, plans to phase out the technology by late September.

Shares of SoundThinking saw an 18% decline on Tuesday, with a cumulative drop of about 50% over the past 12 months. The company rebranded last April after Mayor Johnson, who campaigned on ending the ShotSpotter deal, won the mayoral runoff election.

Chicago officials stated that they intend to redirect resources toward more effective crime-fighting strategies and tactics. 

Chicago Witnesses a 30% Drop in Violent Crime

chicago-shifts-crime-detection-approach-mayor's-office-end-shotspotter-contract-amidst-criticism
Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson’s office announced Tuesday that the city will end its contract with ShotSpotter, a gunshot detection system, later this year.

During the interim period, law enforcement and community safety groups will assess alternative tools and programs aimed at increasing safety and building trust. SoundThinking has not yet commented on the decision.

Mayor Johnson’s opposition to ShotSpotter has sparked disagreement with police leaders who endorse the system, arguing that crime rates, not residents’ race, determine its deployment. 

Police Superintendent Larry Snelling emphasized the importance of technology in policing, acknowledging that while no system is perfect, technology is crucial for crime-fighting efforts.

Violent crime, including homicides and shootings, has seen a 30% drop in Chicago at the beginning of 2024. 

However, community public safety groups argue that ShotSpotter disproportionately sends police officers to Black and Latino neighborhoods for potentially unnecessary and hostile encounters.

The Stop ShotSpotter Coalition praised Chicago’s decision but urged an earlier cessation of the technology, emphasizing the need for tangible support and solutions that address the root causes of gun violence in affected communities.

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