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Mayor Brandon Johnson

Mayor Brandon Johnson.

Pat Nabong

Mayor Johnson to end ShotSpotter deal after summer

Mayor Brandon Johnson is expected to announce that he won’t renew the city’s controversial contract with ShotSpotter, making good on a key campaign promise to do away with the gunshot detection system that has come under heavy fire for allegedly being overly costly and ineffective.

Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), a former Chicago cop who chairs the City Council’s Police Committee, said senior mayoral adviser Jason Lee told him the ShotSpotter contract would be extended until September and then terminated, meaning cops will have access to the technology throughout the historically violent summer and the Democratic National Convention.

Taliaferro pushed back and said the decision will ultimately “hurt the city,” predicting it will have a damning impact on officers’ response times.

“We have lost an opportunity to get aid to victims if there are shots or there is someone who has been shot,” he said. “We’re losing that opportunity to get them life-saving treatment as quickly as possible.”

Johnson outlined the plan during a closed-door meeting Monday night with city officials and advocates, a source said. With ShotSpotter’s roughly $49 million contract expiring on Friday, the city will apparently have to enter into a new deal with parent company SoundThinking to cover the additional months.

While Johnson has publicly remained tight-lipped about his plans for ShotSpotter since taking office, he vowed to nix the deal as a candidate and “invest in new resources that go after illegal guns without physically stopping and frisking Chicagoans on the street.”

He insisted the technology is “unreliable and overly susceptible to human error,” adding that it “played a pivotal role” in the fatal police shooting of 13-year-old Adam Toledo.

Many of those concerns were reiterated by critics of ShotSpotter who frame it as a costly surveillance tool that has led to overpolicing in minority communities. Proponents argue it’s a life-saving resource that gives cops another much-needed tool to respond to gun violence.

Last week, the Sun-Times reported the Cook County state’s attorney’s office had conducted a review of ShotSpotter that found the technology had a minimal effect on prosecuting gun violence cases.

ShotSpotter was previously slammed in a May 2021 report by the MacArthur Justice Center at the Northwestern School of Law, which found that nearly 86% of police deployments to alerts of gunfire prompted no formal reports of any crime.

In another scathing report that August, the city’s Office of the Inspector General concluded the technology rarely leads to investigatory stops or evidence of gun crimes.

Meanwhile, Johnson’s handpicked police superintendent, Larry Snelling, has remained a vocal supporter of ShotSpotter. Last month, Taliaferro and 12 other City Council member sent Snelling a letter saying the technology was “critical to locating victims, giving first responders the opportunity to render swifter aid and locate evidence.”

The alderpersons represent wards in ShotSpotter’s coverage zone, which includes 12 of the city’s 22 police districts. They argued that funding for ShotSpotter was included in the 2024 budget and urged Snelling to “take all steps necessary to ensure that there is no gap in vital services for the residents of Chicago.”

On Tuesday, Taliaferro insisted that ShotSpotter “is very instrumental in keeping our police responsive to the needs of the community, especially when there’s shots being fired in our neighborhoods.”

“Is this technology saving lives? Yes. Are our police officers able to respond to calls of shots fired a lot quicker than using the 911 system? Yes,” he said. “I’m disappointed that we’re getting rid of technology that is actually working as it is designed to do.”

Taliaferro noted that the number of people calling 911 is “much lower than what this detection system is picking up.” That skews the statistics cited by ShotSpotter critics, he said.

“Folks are not calling 911 because, when you’re used to hearing gunshots in your neighborhood, there’s not a strong likelihood that 911 is going to be called and, if it is called, it’s called a lot later than when shots actually occurred,” he said.

Anthony Driver Jr., president of the Community Commissioner for Public Safety and Accountability, said his “biggest concern” has never been “whether ShotSpotter stays or goes.” It’s whether or not Chicago neighborhoods were “prepared for this change.”

“If the mayor has made the decision to keep this until September, it gives us a chance to get prepared by engaging the community, by coming up with a plan,” Driver said.

“I’m sure the mayor, the superintendent and other community stakeholders have to have a role in figuring out how to get prepared,” he said. “That’s what we’re going to try to figure out in that time frame….I’m not going to weigh in one way or another on whether he should change his mind or not. This just gives everybody a chance to get prepared.”

Spokespeople for the police department and ShotSpotter didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

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