Chicago to Discontinue Use of Controversial Gunshot Detection System

Chicago has announced that it will not be renewing its contract with ShotSpotter, a gunshot detection system, due to concerns regarding its accuracy, racial bias, and misuse by law enforcement. The system, which relies on artificial intelligence and a network of microphones, has been used in approximately 140 cities but has faced criticism for its shortcomings.

In a recent Associated Press investigation, it was revealed how a Chicago man was wrongly jailed based on limited evidence generated by ShotSpotter. The individual was later released due to insufficient evidence. As a result, Mayor Brandon Johnson’s office has decided to phase out the technology by late September, as the $49 million contract with SoundThinking, the company behind ShotSpotter, expires this week.

The decision has not been without consequences for SoundThinking. The company’s shares experienced a 16% decrease on Tuesday and have fallen around 50% in the past year. Following Mayor Johnson’s election victory, SoundThinking rebranded itself in April after experiencing a stock decline of over 25%. Johnson had campaigned on ending the contract with ShotSpotter.

Moving forward, the City of Chicago aims to redirect its resources towards more effective strategies and tactics in combating violent crime. Consultations with community organizations, violence prevention groups, and law enforcement will be conducted to determine the most suitable alternatives. This collaborative effort is expected to lead to a safer and stronger Chicago for all residents.

During the transition period, law enforcement agencies and community safety groups will assess various tools and programs that can enhance both safety and trust. Their findings and recommendations will guide future initiatives.

While Mayor Johnson’s decision has drawn opposition from police leaders who support ShotSpotter, he remains committed to prioritizing crime rates rather than race in determining the deployment of new technologies.

The Role of Technology in Policing

“Technology is where policing is going as a whole. If we’re not utilizing technology, then we fall behind in crime fighting,” states Police Superintendent Larry Snelling. While acknowledging that there may be some issues, he asserts that technology is essential in combating crime.

Across the country, violent crime rates, including homicides and shootings, have largely fallen to pre-pandemic levels, although property crimes have seen an increase in certain areas. Remarkably, Chicago has experienced a significant drop in homicides with a 30% decrease at the beginning of 2024. In comparison to the same period last year, there were 39 homicides reported, down from 56.

The Chicago police department has chosen not to comment and has directed inquiries to the mayor’s office.

Some community public safety groups argue that the system disproportionately sends police officers to predominantly Black and Latino neighborhoods, resulting in unnecessary and confrontational situations. Concerns about accuracy have also emerged, as the technology has occasionally mistaken sounds like fireworks or motorcycles for gunshots. Consequently, cities like Charlotte, N.C., and San Antonio, Texas, have decided to terminate their ShotSpotter contracts.

While the Stop ShotSpotter Coalition commends this decision, they believe that Chicago should cease using the technology sooner. In their statement released on Tuesday, they advocate for more tangible support, resources, and solutions that directly address the needs of victims, survivors, and communities most affected by gun violence.

Contributed to this report.

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