City Council Votes 34-14 to Endorse Effort to Overturn Mayor Brandon Johnson’s Decision to Scrap ShotSpotter

The Chicago City Council voted 34-14 on Wednesday to endorse an effort to overturn Mayor Brandon Johnson’s decision to scrap the city’s use of ShotSpotter after an intense debate over the gunshot detection system.

The vote represented a significant rebuke of Johnson and the central promise of his campaign for mayor, which vowed to address the root causes of crime and violence rather than focusing on law enforcement.

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The order calls for a City Council vote before ShotSpotter is removed from any Chicago ward and requires the Johnson administration to provide alderpeople with a host of data generated by the ShotSpotter system before the city’s contract with SoundThinking expires on Nov. 22.

Johnson could veto the order, which he has said is unlawful. However, two-thirds of the City Council voted in favor of it, raising the possibility that the City Council could override a mayoral veto, which has never happened in Chicago history.

The order approved by the City Council said Johnson “usurped the will of the City Council and their ability to represent constituents” by canceling the city’s contract with SoundThinking, which operates the ShotSpotter gunshot detection system.

Johnson was defiant after the meeting.

“This particular measure that was voted on today did nothing,” Johnson said. “The City Council, the legislative body, does not have executive authority.”

Johnson said the vote was a “testament to the level of fear ... of what it takes to build a better, stronger, safer Chicago.”

“This tool ... has been proven to be ineffective,” Johnson said.

The vote was the latest inflection point in the monthslong debate over whether ShotSpotter is an irreplaceable tool in the fight against gun violence on Chicago’s West and South sides or a waste of taxpayer funds that actually makes Black and Latino Chicagoans less safe.

Before the vote, an infuriated Ald. Monique Scott (24th Ward) blasted her colleagues who supported scrapping ShotSpotter’s contract with Chicago, worth approximately $10 million annually.

“I am so disappointed in so many of you,” Scott said to her colleagues. “I am disappointed. I had another mass shooting. I have to leave here and go to an operation for another mass shooting. This is the fourth mass shooting I've had since being an alderwoman. So I thank all of you. I thank everyone who voted ‘no.’ I thank you. This is something my community needs.”

During the impassioned debate, Ald. Jessie Fuentes (26th Ward) said there was no evidence ShotSpotter makes Chicago safer.

“In fact, the safest communities in our city don’t have ShotSpotter,” Fuentes said.

During the 2023 campaign for mayor, Johnson vowed to terminate the city’s use of the 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 in March 2021.

But the issue split two critical parts of Johnson’s political base: progressive Chicagoans who want to see the system scrapped and Black Chicagoans demanding city officials do everything possible to reduce persistent levels of violence.

Ald. Jason Ervin (27th Ward) said it was clear to him that the City Council did not have the power to force the city’s executive branch to contract with SoundThinking. Ervin is Johnson’s hand-picked chair of the Budget Committee and was the chair of the Black Caucus.

An effort by Ervin to send the order that called for a City Council vote before the ShotSpotter system is removed from any city ward back to the City Council’s Police and Fire Committee narrowly failed, paving the way for the measure to pass.

Ervin said ShotSpotter was sold to Chicagoans as the “end-all be-all” of crime-fighting technology back in 2017, but that was not accurate.

“It is just one specific piece of technology,” Ervin said, calling for a broader examination of how Chicago fights crime.

But Ald. David Moore (17th Ward), the lead sponsor of the order, said there was no doubt in his mind that the removal of ShotSpotter will lead to more deaths in his South Side ward.

Moore and Ervin clashed bitterly during the debate, forcing Johnson to attempt to restore order.

Inspector General Deborah Witzburg released an audit in August 2021 that found that fewer than one in 10 ShotSpotter alerts resulted in evidence of a gun-related criminal offense being found. 

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx released a report in February that found the system rarely led to prosecutions for gun crimes.

The company that owns ShotSpotter has long defended the system — which does not operate downtown or on the North Side — as an important part of a multipronged approach to law enforcement and touted its ability to speed help to those wounded by gunfire.

The mayor’s decision to wind down and then end Chicago’s use of ShotSpotter in November came over the objection of Chicago Police Supt. Larry Snelling, who vowed to continue supporting any technology designed to help officers get to crime scenes faster.

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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