A little after 11:30 a.m. today, Mayor Brandon Johnson announced that the city will not renew the ShotSpotter contract, which expires on Feb. 16. Additionally, the city will decommission the technology on Sept. 22.

During his election campaign, Johnson promised to end the city’s contract with ShotSpotter

A press release from the Mayor’s Office states, “During the interim period, law enforcement and other community safety stakeholders will assess tools and programs that effectively increase both safety and trust, and issue recommendations to that effect.”

The announcement happened a short time after the Chicago Sun-Times reported the news, citing Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th Ward) as their source. With the contract lasting through Sept. 22, the Chicago Police Department will have the technology on hand during the summer months and particularly during the Democratic National Convention.

The Mayor’s Press Office wrote that CPD will revamp its strategic operations, implement new training and further develop response models to gun violence. “Moving forward, the City of Chicago will deploy its resources on the most effective strategies and tactics proven to accelerate the current downward trend in violent crime. Doing this work, in consultation with community, violence prevention organizations and law enforcement, provides a pathway to a better, stronger, safer Chicago for all,” the Mayor’s Press Office wrote.

The controversial gunshot detection program has been a source of ire to many Chicagoans, with $49 million spent on the program since 2018.

After Johnson’s announcement, United Working Families executive director Kennedy Bartley released a statement. “Elections matter. Organizing matters,” she said. In Chicago, organizers have been pushing for the city to terminate its ShotSpotter contract for years.

“Today the City of Chicago took a huge step forward in their approach to safety — progress made possible only through years of organizing by the Stop Shotspotter Coalition. This organizing — from the South Side to the West Side and Far North [Side] — honors the lives of 13-year-old Adam Toledo, Michael Williams, Dennis Ortiz, Derick Scruggs, and countless others killed or falsely imprisoned due to the ineffective ShotSpotter technology,” Bartley continued. “The Johnson Administration’s intentional approach to transitioning out of the contract over the next six months is the type of responsible governance and leadership our City needs. I look forward to the ways Community Violence Intervention groups, community members, and youth-led groups like Good Kids Mad City will engage in this transition process.”

A recent Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability (CCPSA) panel on Feb. 8 with city officials and Soundthinking’s CEO Ralph Clark at St. Sabina Church in Auburn-Gresham was contentious. The California-based company rebranded as SoundThinking last April, according to the Sun-Times, amid plummeting stock prices.

Many speakers affected by gun violence were supportive of the program as a flawed, but useful tool in helping save lives. Other residents and activists urged city officials to halt its use, saying  it is an ineffective tool that leads to over-policing in marginalized communities.

Anthony Driver, moderator and CCPSA president, said he was disappointed in how tensions boiled over during the meeting, but said the issue is complex for those who are for and against the technology.

Driver, who was born and raised in Englewood, grew up around gang violence and lost loved ones to shootings. He said it is a matter of life and death on his own part to make the communities he grew up in safer however he can.

“I think there’s valid questions about whether [ShotSpotter] contributes to lives being saved,” Driver said. “The people who are impacted by this have a right to speak. But there were dozens of Chicagoans who felt like they didn’t have any voice in this process.”

Anthony Driver Jr. (left), Remel Terry (middle), and Issac Troncoso (right) of the Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability (CCPSA) interim commissioners at a public meeting for Public Safety and Accountability with CPD Chief Larry Snelling in Pilsen on Sept. 7, 2023.
Anthony Driver Jr. (left), Remel Terry (middle), and Issac Troncoso (right) of the Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability (CCPSA) interim commissioners at a public meeting for Public Safety and Accountability with CPD Chief Larry Snelling in Pilsen on Sept. 7, 2023. Photo by Ash Lane for The TRiiBE®

Remis Herrera, whose brother was shot and killed in October 2017, said the technology could help save lives with faster response times for police and paramedics.

“Put yourself into a place as a law-abiding citizen and you become a victim of gun violence and no one comes to your rescue,” she said. “This is a life-saving technology. Had it been for ShotSpotter, he could be alive today.”

Frank Perez, a gun violence interrupter with UCAN in North Lawndale and Garfield Park, said ShotSpotter helps other interrupters like him reach the scene of gun-related incidents faster in order to de-escalate situations.

“The CPD [Chicago Police Department] is already low on manpower as it is. I think it’s still a valuable tool, but I do understand concerns for racial profiling,” he said.

Soundthinking CEO Ralph Clark admitted the technology is not perfect, but still defended the technology for its accuracy of roughly 97% in accuracy for detecting gunshots. He said the detection technology has never fallen below 90% in Chicago.

ShotSpotter is used in other major cities nationwide, such as New York City, Chicago, Boston, Oakland, and Denver.

The company is also known for its CrimeTracer search engine, which the city also plans to use, as of last December, for six months, according to CBS News. New York City and Chicago accounted for 30% and 10% of the company’s total revenues in 2022, according to SoundThinking’s annual report.

“As a company, we strive to do better and be better and push our agency partners to do better and be better as well,” he said. Activists against the program, however, said it will lead to over-policing and increased surveillance of Black and brown communities, and more aggressive police responses, highlighting the shooting death of 13-year-old Adam Toledo with ShotSpotter’s use that night.

Little Village community protesting the death of Adam Toledo on April 16, 2021.
Little Village community protesting the death of Adam Toledo on April 16, 2021. Photo by Darius Griffin for The TRiiBE®

Charles Ransford, senior director of science & policy at Cure Violence Global, said ShotSpotter merely encourages a larger police presence in affected communities when more comprehensive measures could be used instead.

Ransford, currently based in Grand Rapids, Mich., worked to reduce gun violence in Chicago for 20 years until 2020. Measures he suggested to curb community violence includes using violence interrupters and mental health screenings for victims afflicted with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to prevent further trauma.

“Cities are so invested in policing that they [overlook] things that are more health-based in terms of care and support of the people that are going through these things,” Ransford said. “Technology like ShotSpotter will help police get to one place quicker, but that’s not helping people [long-term].”

Catherine Shaw, organizer and social science researcher, also spoke against funding ShotSpotter during Thursday’s meeting. 

She suggested funding public mental health centers, community-based violence prevention organizations, after-school programs, and providing job opportunities.

Shaw also said ShotSpotter actually slows police response times and may lead to dangerous police interactions with communities of color, including stop and frisk interactions.

“To address gun violence, we must interrogate the ways in which we are violent towards young people. Continuing to fund death-making institutions, police, prisons and surveillance over life-affirming supports only perpetuates violence,” Shaw said.

For years, there has been debate on whether the technology is actually a useful deterrent. A 2021 study by the MacArthur Justice Center showed that more than 90% of ShotSpotter alerts lead police to find no evidence to corroborate gunfire when police came onto the scene.

A study by the city’s Inspector General that same year found that roughly 9.1% of Chicago Police Department responses to ShotSpotter were linked to a gun-related crime, and a recent report from the Cook County state’s attorney’s office obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times last week reported that the technology led to arrests in just 1% of more than 12,000 incidents over a roughly five-year span.

Sharah Hutson, founder of the Stop ShotSpotter campaign and staunch anti-surveillance activist, said the meeting Thursday was dismissive to those impacted by gun and police violence. Hutson, who uses they/them pronouns, also said the technology only encourages more police surveillance against communities of color.

“It is quite evident that past and ongoing attempts to reduce gun violence that involve expanding the police state and the surveillance apparatus do not work. What it does is increase more harm done towards Black and brown folks in Chicago, further relies on the usage of racist technology, and maintains the police state that no longer needs to be in existence,” they said.

is a freelance contributor for The TRiiBE. He previously served as West Side Reporter for Block Club Chicago.