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Looming end of Chicago’s ShotSpotter contract brings mixed reviews

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(The Center Square) – Elected officials in Chicago have differing takes on the cancellation of the gunfire detection program ShotSpotter.

State Rep. La Shawn Ford, D-Chicago, is saluting Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson for making what he views as the responsible choice in electing to end the city’s roughly $50 million contract with the ShotSpotter company.

“We need to make sure that we spend taxpayer dollars wisely and I think that ShotSpotter knew that there was a problem with the accuracy of the services that they provided,” Ford told The Center Square. “We’re looking at a $50 million contract that only produces about 11% accuracy. That’s not something taxpayers should be on the hook for. We can’t just give a contract to a service with 11% accuracy.”

Earlier this month, Johnson announced that the city would officially be pulling the plug on the four-year deal sometime this month, though reports persist that the two sides are in ongoing talks to extend the arrangement through the summer, which is typically regarded as a time where gun violence surges.

As a candidate, Johnson vowed that he would end the city’s pact with the gunfire detection company that works by sending alerts to Chicago Police whenever gunfire is heard in one of the of the 12 mostly south and west side neighborhoods where the equipment is installed.

Chicago Police Superintendent Larry Snelling this week defended the technology as a valuable public safety tool.

“I’m for technology that’s going to help us get to a location quicker and help us save lives,” Snelling said. “However, there are some things that are outside of the control of the Chicago Police Department when it comes to those things but … there are great men and women in this department who work very hard and they’re going to continue to do the same.”

Chicago Ald. Chris Taliaferro said he was disappointed in Johnson’s decision.

“I’m disappointed we’re moving away from technology and losing a resource our officers need to fight crime and save lives,” Taliaferro said. “I think the public has put too much emphasis on the so-called job ShotSpotter has done. The program is designed to do one thing and that’s to detect gunfire. It’s not to guarantee that officers uphold constitutional rights once they arrive on the scene. That’s something we have to remain mindful of.”

Critics of the service have long argued that it places an unfair target on many of the residents in the neighborhoods where it is stationed by opening the door for CPD to be able to stop and search more people based on the frequency of the alerts in their neighborhood. As recently as 2021, an Inspector General report detailed how less than 1 in 10 ShotSpotter alerts actually found evidence of a gun crime.

“I think we need to look at ways to prevent crime from happening in the first place,” Ford added. “That means we need to put that money in services that are creating crime in our neighborhoods, like drug prevention services. There are so many people that are suffering with substance abuse disorder in these high crime areas. If we limit the criminal operation of drug sales in our communities, I do believe we can see a reduction in crime.”

In the end, Ford stresses that he is hoping to see all the sides come together to work for the common good.

Greg Bishop contributed to this report.