Cancel ShotSpotter and support community-led solutions to address gun violence in Chicago


ShotSpotter is an audio surveillance system used by the Chicago Police Department that is meant to detect the sound and location of gunshots. It is a network of audio sensors that blankets 117 square miles of the city with approximately 15 to 20 microphones per square mile. Shotspotter is only deployed in the 12 police districts with the largest Black and Latinx populations, and its surveillance footprint covers 80% of the city’s Black residents and 63% of the city’s Latinx residents. Chicago has paid approximately $10 million per year for Shotspotter over the past three years. The city has spent untold millions more on the time spent by police officers chasing down unfounded ShotSpotter alerts. The contract expires August 19, 2021, but the city has an option to extend for two years, or for a shorter 181-day period.

The City of Chicago and Chicago Police Department need to cancel this contract.

The City of Chicago has never provided any studies showing that ShotSpotter has reduced gun violence. Independent peer-reviewed studies of ShotSpotter find that it does not reduce gun crimes and does not even lead to more arrests for those crimes. Other cities - such as San Antonio, Charlotte, and Fall River - have already cancelled their contracts with Shotspotter because they found it to be costly and ineffective—a waste of city resources. More than just being a waste of city resources, these needless deployments are dangerous for Black and brown community members who historically have been killed, tortured, disappeared, and terrorized by CPD officers. At best, ShotSpotter can only send police out after shots have been fired. It does nothing to prevent gun violence from happening in the first place. Instead, ShotSpotter trains police to blindly follow its technology instead of relying on the community and residents. Effective violence prevention comes from the community; ShotSpotter cuts residents out.

The overwhelming majority of ShotSpotter alerts turn up nothing. According to data from the Office of Emergency Management and Communications:

89% of ShotSpotter deployments in Chicago turned up no gun-related incident at all, and less than 5% of ShotSpotter alerts led police to a shooting or attempted shooting. The vast majority of shootings are also called in through 9-1-1 by residents.

86% of ShotSpotter deployments don’t produce any kind of police incident report, and there are more than 20,000 dead-end ShotSpotter deployments every year.

On an average day in Chicago, there are more than 61 ShotSpotter-initiated police deployments that turn up no evidence of any crime, let alone gun crime.

The overwhelming majority of ShotSpotter alerts turn up nothing: ShotSpotter creates 60+ dangerous situations every day in police districts with the largest Black and Latinx populations. Every ShotSpotter alert puts Black and brown residents at risk of a dangerous encounter with police. Every ShotSpotter alert causes police to believe they are entering a life-threatening location and to treat everyone in the area as an armed threat while doing nothing to effectively prevent or address gun violence. Chicago cannot and should not continue to invest $10 million per year into this faulty, dangerous, and racist technology.

Redirect the money to the Peace Book and Community Restoration Ordinance to effectively address gun violence: Imagined by young people from Chicago’s GoodKids MadCity organization, the Peace Book would provide a resource directory identifying wraparound services and job opportunities with the purpose of reducing youth incarceration. By passing the Community Restoration Ordinance, the Peace Book would also establish neighborhood Peace Commissions that would train and employ violence interrupters and create violence prevention models in accordance with what is needed in a given community. It “proposes remedies to gun violence, including, but not limited to, free drug treatment centers, trauma centers, trauma-informed schools, mental health care clinics, standby psychiatrists or therapists, restorative justice, community centers, transformative justice, fair housing, food justice and economic justice.”

As indicated by the People’s Budget Chicago, residents believe that we need to put more funds into health care, education, and housing, and less into carceral systems in order to create a city where everyone can thrive; Investments in violence interruption, and investments in the structural things necessary to prevent violence, are proven to work. The Peace Book and Community Restoration Ordinance are a step towards allocating resources towards those needs.

Demand an independent audit of ShotSpotter and its impact on communities of color: There is no scientific evidence that ShotSpotter can reliably tell the difference between the sound of actual gunshots and other loud noises like firecrackers, tires blowing out, construction noise, and other urban sounds. ShotSpotter has never done a scientific study of its “false alert” rate, and ShotSpotter’s technology is not independently validated. ShotSpotter also actively fights in court to keep how its system works a secret. Chicago did not do any validation testing of the ShotSpotter system before or after activating it; the State’s Attorney in Cook County has repeatedly dropped criminal charges or declined to use ShotSpotter evidence rather than defend the reliability of ShotSpotter in court. No judge in Cook County has ever had a chance to examine the reliability of ShotSpotter. Residents of Chicago deserve to understand and know how ShotSpotter works and its impact on our communities, especially those who are directly-impacted and targeted by its deployment. We are calling on the Chicago Office of Inspector General to conduct an audit of and release a report on the effectiveness of ShotSpotter and the technology’s role in curbing gun violence and over-policing of Black and Latinx neighborhoods. Without the commitment and implementation of an audit, Chicago should not have a contract with ShotSpotter.

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Petition by
Alyxandra Goodwin
Chicago, Illinois
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Do not renew or extend Chicago's contract with ShotSpotter. Instead, invest that money in violence interruption and prevention programs such as the Peace Book to effectively address gun violence in the city.