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Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson will not renew ShotSpotter after summer, alderman says

Mayor Brandon Johnson will end the city’s usage of a controversial gunshot detection technology, making good on a campaign promise that progressives rallied behind.

Before the city decommissions ShotSpotter in September, “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,” the Johnson administration said in a statement.

“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,” the statement reads in part. “Doing this work, in consultation with community, violence prevention organizations and law enforcement, provides a pathway to a better, stronger, safer Chicago for all.”

The decision was not greeted with universal acclaim.

Staunch ShotSpotter supporter Ald. Chris Taliaferro, 29th, learned Tuesday morning the contract would be extended through September, but then not renewed, he said.

Taliaferro said he is disappointed in the decision and thinks it will make responding to gun violence more difficult. There were 2,452 shootings in Chicago in 2023, according to police.

“We’re losing the ability of our police responders and our first responders to respond to scenes much quicker than our traditional call-in to 911,” said Taliaferro, a former Chicago police sergeant. “When you lose that, the ability to quickly respond, then you also decrease the ability to save lives.”

While Taliaferro disagreed with the decision, he said he wasn’t surprised by it, noting Johnson’s campaign promise to end the contract. The mayor listened to all sides as the contract’s fate was considered, he said.

Ald. Walter Burnett said the decision draws “mixed emotions.” While some people criticized the technology — which utilizes sensors mounted on light poles to alert police about the location of suspected gunfire — as unhelpful in solving crimes and an impetus for over-policing, others believed it helped officers respond more quickly to shootings, he said.

Burnett, Johnson’s vice mayor, said the questionable results of the expensive technology were ultimately deemed not worthwhile. The money used to pay for ShotSpotter could be rerouted to hire more police officers or add license plate readers in an effort to respond to car jackings, he said.

The latest renewal of the deal cost the city $10.2 million.

“I know that the mayor is very concerned about supporting the superintendent,” Burnett said. “There’s a myriad of things the money can be used for that could be helpful.”

ShotSpotter representatives did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

During the 2023 mayoral race, Johnson vowed to cancel the city’s deal with ShotSpotter — the company which is now known as SoundThinking — as activists decried its role in police interactions and in prosecuting gun violence cases.

But others said they worry scrapping a device that helps first responders triage gunshots throughout the South and West sides, where the technology is most frequently concentrated, would make it more difficult to locate victims and offenders in time.

The Chicago police slaying of 13-year-old Adam Toledo in 2021 also sparked criticism of ShotSpotter as it was a gunshot alert from a street in Little Village that sent officers chasing after the boy. But since assuming office, the Johnson administration has renewed the contract until this Friday and maintained its fate after that was forthcoming.

Johnson’s handpicked Chicago police superintendent Larry Snelling had so far also stayed mum on the issue, instead merely answering a question on the future of the contract in September with: “I am for any technology that is going to save lives.”

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