Mayor Brandon Johnson Cancels ShotSpotter Contract, Fulfilling Major Campaign Promise

Video: The WTTW News Spotlight Politics team of Heather Cherone, Amanda Vinicky and Paris Schutz breaks down the day’s biggest stories. (Produced by Paul Caine)

Mayor Brandon Johnson announced Tuesday he will not extend the Chicago Police Department’s contract with ShotSpotter, fulfilling a key campaign promise to end the use of the controversial gunshot detection system embraced by police brass even as it was blasted by the city’s watchdog as ineffective.

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Johnson said in a statement the city will stop using the ShotSpotter technology by Sept. 22 — one month after the Democratic National Convention takes place in Chicago and after the summer months that are often the most violent period of the year.

“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,” according to a statement released by the mayor’s office. “Doing this work, in consultation with community, violence prevention organizations and law enforcement, provides a pathway to a better, stronger, safer Chicago for all.”

After the contract expires Friday, “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,” according to the mayor’s office.

That will require police brass to “revamp operations within the Strategic Decision Support Centers, implement new training and further develop response models to gun violence that ultimately reduce shootings and increase accountability,” according to the mayor’s office. 

A spokesperson for SoundThinking, the company behind the technology, did not immediately respond to a request for comment from WTTW News.

It is unclear how much the city will pay to use the ShotSpotter system for the next seven months, or whether the city will have to ink a new contract with the firm to provide those services. It is also unclear whether the Chicago City Council would have to approve that contract.

“Those details are still being discussed,” said mayoral spokesperson Ronnie Reese.

Kennedy Bartley, the executive director of United Working Families, which campaigned for Johnson, celebrated his move, and called the mayor’s decision to phase out the system “responsible.”

“Today is a new day, where investments in evidence-based, holistic solutions that don’t just respond to violence but prevent it are driving our city’s public safety policy,” Bartley said. “We know a safer Chicago is on the horizon and we will keep organizing to win it.”

During his 2023 campaign for mayor, Johnson promised to end the city’s contract with the firm, which began in August 2018 under former Mayor Rahm Emanuel and has cost taxpayers $49 million.

Johnson’s campaign website said there was “clear evidence [ShotSpotter] is unreliable and overly susceptible to human error,” and blamed the system of microphones strong across the South and West sides for the death of 13-year-old Adam Toledo, who was shot and killed by a Chicago police officer responding to an alert from the system.

City resources should instead be spent on “new resources that go after illegal guns without physically stopping and frisking Chicagoans on the street,” Johnson said on the now-defunct website.

However, Johnson’s hand-picked top cop was one of the biggest supporters of ShotSpotter in the Chicago Police Department. As recently as earlier this month, Supt. Larry Snelling called the system a crucial tool in CPD’s fight against gun and gang violence.

Toledo’s death ignited a firestorm of controversy over the city’s use of the gunshot detection system, which critics said did nothing to help police fight crime or violence while also contributing to the over policing of Black and Latino Chicagoans.

Johnson’s election in April sent the firm’s stock price spiraling downward, and lead to the decision to rebrand firm as SoundThinking. Leaders of the Oakland, California-based firm had campaigned to keep its contract, which former Mayor Lori Lightfoot extended for two years in 2021, without public notice.

The company's stock dropped nearly 18.4%, to close at $17.56 per share, on Tuesday. The firm has lost more than half its value as measured by the stock market since March, just before Johnson's election.

The same month Lightfoot extended the city’s contract with ShotSpotter, Inspector General Deborah Witzburg released an audit that found that fewer than one in 10 ShotSpotter alerts resulted in evidence of a gun-related criminal offense being found.

Earlier this month, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx released a report that found the system rarely lead to prosecutions for gun crimes.

Company officials have long defended the system as an important part of a multipronged approach to law enforcement and touted its ability to speed help to those wounded by gunfire.

Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]

A Safer City is supported, in part, by the Sue Ling Gin Foundation Initiative for Reducing Violence in Chicago. 

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