Chicago to stop using controversial gunshot detection technology this year


CHICAGO (AP) — Chicago won’t renew its ShotSpotter contract and plans to stop using the controversial gunshot detection system later this year, Mayor Brandon Johnson’s office announced Tuesday.

The system, which relies on an artificial intelligence algorithm and network of microphones to identify gunshots, has been criticized for inaccuracy, racial bias and law enforcement misuse. An Associated Press investigation of the technology, which is used in roughly 140 cities, detailed how a Chicago man was jailed on scant ShotSpotter-generated evidence and later released for insufficient evidence.

Chicago’s $49 million contract with SoundThinking, a public safety technology company, expires Friday. The city plans to wind down use of ShotSpotter technology by late September, according to city officials.

“Chicago will deploy its resources on the most effective strategies and tactics proven to accelerate the current downward trend in violent crime,” the city said in a statement. “Doing this work, in consultation with community, violence prevention organizations and law enforcement, provides a pathway to a better, stronger, safer Chicago for all.”

Johnson’s office said that during the interim period, law enforcement and community safety groups would “assess tools and programs that effectively increase both safety and trust,” and issue recommendations.

A SoundThinking representative didn’t immediately have comment Tuesday.

Johnson, a first-term mayor, campaigned on a promise to end the use of ShotSpotter, putting him at odds with police leaders who have praised the system.

They argue that crime rates — not residents’ race — determine where the technology is deployed.

“Technology is where policing is going as a whole. If we’re not utilizing technology, then we fall behind in crime fighting,” Police Superintendent Larry Snelling told The AP in an October interview. “There are always going to be issues. Nothing is 100% and nothing’s going to be perfect.”

Violent crime, including homicides and shootings, has largely fallen across the country to about the same level as before the COVID-19 pandemic, though property crimes have risen in some places. In Chicago, the downward trend of violent crime has continued at the start of 2024 with a 30% drop in homicides. There were 39 through last week compared with 56 during the same period last year.

Chicago police declined comment Tuesday, directing questions to the mayor’s office.

Community public safety groups argued that the system sends police officers to predominantly Black and Latino neighborhoods for often unnecessary and hostile encounters. Issues with accuracy, for instance when the technology has mistakenly identified fireworks or motorcycle sounds as gunshots, have prompted cities including Charlotte, North Carolina, and San Antonio, Texas, to end their ShotSpotter contracts.

The Stop ShotSpotter Coalition praised the announcement but said Chicago should stop using the technology sooner.

“Victims, survivors, their families and the communities with the highest rates of gun violence deserve more tangible support, resources and solutions that have been forgone due to investments in policing and technology that do not prevent or reduce violence,” the coalition said in a Tuesday statement.



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