Lightfoot administration quietly renewed ShotSpotter contract that Johnson has vowed to cancel - Action Center on Race and the Economy

A ShotSpotter spokeswoman said the multimillion-dollar deal was extended in October, the same month Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson declared his candidacy.

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While Brandon Johnson was vowing on the campaign trail to end the city’s contract with ShotSpotter, Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration had already quietly extended the city’s multimillion-dollar contract to use the controversial gunshot detection software.

The city’s initial three-year, $33 million contract with California-based ShotSpotter started in August 2018 and was extended for two more years in December 2020 without public notice and long before the initial deal was slated to end.

Records show the contract was set to expire Aug. 19, but a ShotSpotter spokesperson said it was extended in October and will remain in effect until at least Feb. 16.

A City Hall source said there have been “extensive conversations” about soliciting bids for software that detects gunfire because the market for such technology has expanded. Lightfoot, who lost her reelection bid in February, has called ShotSpotter “a lifesaver” when paired with surveillance cameras and city technology centers.

The technology, which pairs an artificial intelligence algorithm with a system of microphones, aims to quickly alert police to the sound of gunfire. Gunshot sensors have already been installed in at least 12 of the city’s 22 police districts.

As a candidate, Johnson committed to “end the ShotSpotter contract and invest in new resources that go after illegal guns without physically stopping and frisking Chicagoans on the street.” The now mayor-elect said the technology is “unreliable and overly susceptible to human error,” adding that it “played a pivotal role” in the fatal police shooting of 13-year-old Adam Toledo.

ShotSpotter’s stock value has spiraled since the Cook County commissioner was elected Tuesday night, falling more than 31% to $25.95 at Friday’s market close. CEO Ralph Clark has since extended an olive branch to the next mayor in an effort to hold on to one of the company’s most important clients.

“We are hopeful that we can demonstrate how ShotSpotter can best provide value to Chicago and how it can be a vital component of Mayor-elect Johnson’s holistic strategy in addressing gun violence,” Clark said in a statement.

Johnson’s transition team declined to comment on his plans. City officials didn’t respond to requests for comment on the ShotSpotter deal, which has been under fire for years.

In May 2021, researchers at the MacArthur Justice Center found that nearly 86% of ShotSpotter deployments prompted no formal reports of crime. The city’s Office of the Inspector General then issued a scathing report that August showing ShotSpotter rarely leads to investigatory stops or evidence of gun crimes and can change the way officers interact with communities.

The spokesperson for ShotSpotter said the researchers’ findings “relied heavily on a flawed analysis of incomplete data” and the inspector general’s office’s conclusions were “misrepresented by critics to spread a false narrative about ShotSpotter’s accuracy.”

The spokesperson claimed the technology is 97% accurate and said the police department has credited the firm “with 125 lives saved in the last five years, the recovery of 2,985 firearms and 24,421 pieces of evidence.”

During a City Council hearing in November 2021, then-Deputy Chief Larry Snelling similarly framed ShotSpotter as lifesaving tool while insisting that a lack of evidence doesn’t always mean a gun crime didn’t occur, noting that shell casings from a drive-by shooting can wind up inside the getaway car.

But serious concerns about ShotSpotter have persisted.

In March 2022, the Associated Press reported that a Chicago man accused of murder was held at the Cook County Jail for nearly a year before his case was ultimately dropped amid questions over key ShotSpotter evidence. The AP later reported ShotSpotter employees have broad authority to overrule the company’s system to determine whether a sound is a gunshot or something else, something that happened in the Chicago case.

For Alyxandra Goodwin, deputy campaigns director for the Action Center on Race and the Economy, canceling the ShotSpotter contract is about dismantling the city’s growing surveillance capabilities and giving city residents more say in the city’s approach to public safety.

As she circulates an online petition to end the deal that has garnered more than 3,000 signatures, Goodwin proposed using the ShotSpotter money to fund ordinances that would back restorative justice initiatives and the city’s non-police response to mental health crises.

“Communities have no input on what public safety is for us. We have no input on the technologies being used against us to target and criminalize us,” Goodwin said. “And I think the more that these kind of contracts happen and move through, it just is further reinforcing the idea that we don’t know what’s best for us.”