Chicago Taxpayers to Spend an Additional $4.2M to Allow CPD to Use ShotSpotter Through November

(WTTW News)(WTTW News)

It will cost Chicago taxpayers an additional $4.2 million to allow the Chicago Police Department to continue using ShotSpotter for an additional nine months, bringing the total cost of the contract extension inked by Mayor Brandon Johnson just hours before the city was set to lose access to the controversial gunshot detection system to $8.6 million.

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Records published by city officials late Monday and obtained by WTTW News show that Johnson signed two extensions of the city’s deal with SoundThinking, the firm that operates ShotSpotter, one dated Feb. 16 for $1 million and one dated Feb. 26 for $3.2 million.

Read the full contracts extending the city’s use of ShotSpotter here and here.

The final day the gunshot detection system will be in use is set for Nov. 22, even though Johnson announced on Feb. 13 that the contract would end Sept. 22. Three days later, the mayor’s office announced there would be an additional “two-month transition” period.

By the contract’s final day, Chicago taxpayers will have paid more than $53 million since 2018 for a system that Johnson said Feb. 21 never provided a return on the city’s investment or the results that it promised.

“I just didn’t see enough evidence that there was a benefit,” Johnson said, adding that during the next nine months police leaders will evaluate the use of the system and determine how to address gun violence.

Despite that, Johnson agreed to extend the contract to allow 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.

The extension also ensures that the system will be in place during the Democratic National Convention, set to come to Chicago in late August, and after the summer months that are often the most violent period of the year, perhaps insulating Johnson from crticism if crime surges.

Under the previous extension of the contract, agreed to by former Mayor Lori Lightfoot and executed by Johnson in June, the city agreed to pay the Oakland, California-based firm an additional $10.2 million.

Under the terms of that extension, the city had budgeted — but not spent — $4.4 million to pay for the ShotSpotter system, leaving enough to pay for approximately half of the total cost of the final contract extension, officials said.

The administration has no plans to present the contract extension to the Chicago City Council for approval, with city officials telling WTTW News the mayor has the authority to extend the contract without legislative approval. There is also no legal requirement to allow other companies to bid to provide gunshot detection services to Chicago, officials said.

ShotSpotter officials declined to answer questions from WTTW News about the extension of the contract with Chicago. The firm has lost nearly half its value as measured by the stock market since March 2023, just before Johnson’s election, and has shown no sign of rebounding.

Former Mayor Rahm Emanuel inked Chicago’s original contract with ShotSpotter in 2018, basing the agreement on the deal the firm reached with the city of Louisville, Kentucky. The Chicago deal required the firm to provide enough high-powered microphones and sensors to cover 117.5 square miles of the city, most on the South and the West sides, for an annual fee of $65,000 per square mile or $7.6 million annually.

The contract extension requires Chicago to pay 13% more per square mile for ShotSpotter coverage, or $73,500, records show.

That means while Chicago taxpayers paid approximately $5.7 million for ShotSpotter coverage during the last nine months, they will pay significantly more to extend a contract the mayor told reporters provided little, if any, benefit to taxpayers.

During the 2023 campaign for mayor, Johnson vowed to terminate the city’s use of the gunshot detection system, saying there was “clear evidence (ShotSpotter) is unreliable and overly susceptible to human error.” He blamed the system 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.

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.

Johnson’s decision to wind down and then end Chicago’s use of ShotSpotter came over the objection of Chicago Police Supt. Larry Snelling, who said Tuesday he would not “back away” from his support of a technology designed to help officers get to crime scenes faster.

However, Snelling said he would remain focused on public safety in Chicago and not “dabble in politics” or “dabble in distractions.”

As Chicago winds down its use of ShotSpotter, the city has begun a six-month test of another product from SoundThinking, CrimeTracer. The firm touts that system as a way to fill gaps caused by staffing crunches and aging data systems by giving officers access to “a powerful law enforcement search engine and information platform that enables law enforcement to search data from agencies across the U.S. using natural language speech terms and concepts.”

City officials have made “no commitments to continue using this system post-trial period,” according to Ronnie Reese, Johnson’s spokesperson.

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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