Brandon Johnson is in no rush to ditch ShotSpotter despite campaign promise

It appears Mayor Brandon Johnson is in no rush to make good on his campaign promise to cancel the Chicago Police Department’s contract for the controversial gunshot detection technology known as ShotSpotter.

Former Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s decision to quietly extend the multi-million dollar contract through at least February 16 has given Johnson some breathing space and opened the door for him to reconsider ditching the system that first alerted CPD to the fatal shooting. on May 6 of one of their own: Areanah Preston, 24.

“The mayor made it clear that there were some real questions about the effectiveness of ShotSpotter and whether it was worth the cost based on the information we had. He’s going to do his due diligence. There may be people who have a different perspective. He will listen to everyone and make a decision on it,” senior adviser Jason Lee told the Chicago Sun-Times.

“The previous mayor extended the contract until 2024, I think. Obviously, it wouldn’t make sense to pay the consequences that we would have to pay to do something before that relatively short-term extension.”

Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson and Acting Police Superintendent.  Fred Waller smiles during a news conference where officials discussed public safety plans and activities for Memorial Day weekend at 63rd Street Beach, Thursday, May 25, 2023.

Mayor Brandon Johnson and the Acting Police Superintendent. Fred Waller smiles during a press conference on public safety plans and activities for Memorial Day weekend.

File Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Mayoral candidate Brandon Johnson was so adamant about hushing up the contract that ShotSpotter’s stock value plummeted after Johnson was elected.

That prompted the California company to change its name to SoundThinking, even as it promised that ShotSpotter would “keep its name as a product.”

“Chicago spends $9 million a year on ShotSpotter despite clear evidence that it is unreliable and overly susceptible to human error. This expensive technology played a critical role in the police murder of 13-year-old Adam Toledo,” Johnson’s anti-violence plan states.

“That can’t happen again. Brandon Johnson will end ShotSpotter’s contract and invest in new resources that go after illegal guns without physically stopping or frisking Chicagoans on the street.”

The city’s initial three-year, $33 million contract with ShotSpotter began in August 2018 and was extended for an additional two years in December 2020 without public notice and well before the initial agreement was finalized.

Last month, the Sun-Times revealed the latest extension. At the time, city council sources said there had been “extensive discussions” about solicitation of bids for gunshot detection software because the market for such technology has expanded.

Executive Director Ralph Clark said he hoped to use the second extension as an opportunity to convince Johnson that ShotSpotter “can be a vital component” of the new mayor’s “comprehensive strategy to address gun violence.”

The company has long maintained that its technology is 97% accurate and CPD has credited the company with “125 lives saved” over five years.

But the company’s claims have been widely disputed, even sparking a federal lawsuit that claims the technology is unreliable and leads to unconstitutional policing.

In 2021, researchers found that nearly 86% of ShotSpotter deployments did not result in formal crime reports.

Later that year, the inspector general’s office claimed that ShotSpotter rarely leads to investigative stops or evidence of firearms crime and can change the way officers interact with the areas they are required to patrol.

In November 2021, ShotSpotter and its CPD advocates faced off against critics of gunshot detection technology during an hour-long City Hall hearing.

“We can say that 85 [or] 90% of the time, the shot detection system does not provide any information. What we need to look at is 10% of the time it does,” Deputy Police Chief Larry Snelling told council members that day.

“That 10% of the time could be the difference between officers arriving on scene applying a tourniquet … to prevent a victim from bleeding to death or getting an ambulance there much faster to get these victims to the hospital.”

Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20), a Johnson ally, was not appeased.

“For $9 million, will you send the police to stop a truck on the freeway? Two plus two does not equal four,” she said.

“I have a 4-year-old boy who was murdered in my neighborhood. From ShotSpotter to cameras, Ring cameras and all this, and we can’t solve any crime? … The officers are there after the crime. This is supposed to be something that helps us earlier. And it’s just not doing that.”

Johnson also vowed to undo Lightfoot’s controversial plan to block the media from listening to the live feed of traffic from the police department’s scanner.

Lee said the mayor remains “committed to First Amendment access to information” and believes there is a “way to do it securely that respects the safety of officers, the integrity of investigations, and allows open access to information, particularly to the press”.

“We are working on that. We will propose some solutions,” said the senior adviser.