Residents were split on whether the city should renew its contract to continue using the controversial gunshot detection-system known as ShotSpotter during a forum on the technology’s efficacy in the city at St. Sabina Church.
Some among the more than 150 people in attendance at the South Side church said the system was nothing more than a costly surveillance tool in already over-policed Black and Brown neighborhoods.
But others, like Remedios Herrera, whose brother was fatally shot in October, said ShotSpotter can lead paramedics to shooting victims more quickly, giving them extra time to potentially save a life.
“As a law-abiding citizen if you become a victim of gun violence, and no one comes to your rescue, no one comes to your aid, I want you to quantify that,” Herrera said. “How much is your life worth? How much is your family’s?”
The meeting was organized by the Community Commission For Public Safety and Accountability. Anthony Driver, president of the commission, said the aim was for the panel to gather information and hear from the public. It was the commission’s “first opportunity to explore the issue,” he said.
The discussion featured panelists who fell on either side of the debate, including Ralph Clark, president and CEO of SoundThinking, parent company of ShotSpotter.
In response to a question about reports casting doubt on the technology’s effectiveness, Clark acknowledged that “ShotSpotter is not a perfect technology,” but he said the company contractually guarantees at least 90% efficacy. He said there are “steep financial penalties” if they go below that figure.
He added that there are also contractual guarantees that the technology will detect gunshots within 80 feet of occurrence. “We’ve never fallen below 90% in the city of Chicago,” Clark said.
“As a company we’ve always strived to do better and push our agency partners to do better and be better as well,” Clark said.
Other panelists included activist Nathan Palmer of Stop ShotSpotter Campaign; Darryl Smith of People Educated Against Crime in Englewood; and Teny Gross, executive director of the Institute for Nonviolence Chicago.
According to a report Thursday in the Sun-Times, a review by the Cook County state’s attorney’s office found that ShotSpotter is “an expensive tool” that has had minimal effect on the prosecution of gun violence cases.
Most ShotSpotter-related arrests “are not severe,” the review found. Nearly one-third of those arrests weren’t tied to firearms. And there’s no year that gun violence arrests — like homicide or reckless discharge — accounted for more than 22% of ShotSpotter-related arrests
SoundThinking, ShotSpotter’s parent company, said there were “some serious misleading interpretations” in the review. During its time in Chicago, SoundThinking said ShotSpotter has been credited with saving more than 125 lives and has led to the recovery of more than 3,000 illegal guns and more than 25,000 pieces of evidence.
Mayor Brandon Johnson has expressed his intention to end the city’s roughly $49 million contract with ShotSpotter, which expires Feb. 16.
Several people showed up at the meeting carrying signs. One read “Surveillance like ShotSpotter is not safety.” Another read “Cancel the contract.”
Heather Barnes, who lives in Roseland, said Johnson should think about renewing the contract on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis, because some areas are more violent than others.
“I think he should renew it, because I live in Roseland, and I think it’s better to have some kind of gun-tracing tool, instead of having officers go into the streets blind, even if it’s not 100 percent accurate,” she said.
Katherine Shaw, who identified herself as an educator and organizer, urged the mayor to cancel the contract.
“Solutions to gun violence must come from impacted communities, not police or companies that profit off of, and rely on violence to justify their existence,” Shaw said, suggesting the city should instead use the contract money to open more mental health centers and improve public facilities such as parks.
“The time to cancel the contract is now,” Shaw said.