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Mayor Johnson expects ShotSpotter to stay through September


On the lack of clarity on whether ShotSpotter’s gunshot detection devices will remain in Chicago after this week, Mayor Brandon Johnson said Thursday that it’s “clear” he expects the technology to continue working in the city through September.

But Johnson repeatedly refused to answer whether the company’s operators had agreed to the contract extension, which appears to be necessary to keep the police department running.

Johnson announced Tuesday that the city would end its use of the police surveillance tool after extending the city’s contract to use the technology through September. The mayor’s administration said the short-term extension was intended to give police room to “refresh operations.”

But some city council members later said ShotSpotter had rejected Johnson’s offer of a short-term contract extension and predicted the surveillance tool would be shut down this weekend.

Representatives for ShotSpotter, now known as SoundThinking, did not respond to questions about whether the contract with the city had been extended. A ShotSpotter spokesperson did not immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday.

“In my conversations with the people who operate and run ShotSpotter, we have been clear from the beginning about what I have previously stated. That’s still in place,” Johnson said at a press conference on Thursday.

The Johnson administration left no doubt about the technology’s future in Chicago in a statement Tuesday.

“The City of Chicago will not renew its contract with SoundThinking, which expires on February 16, 2024, and will retire the use of ShotSpotter technology on September 22, 2024,” the management said in a statement.

The statement said the extension until September would give police time to implement new training, tools and response models before ShotSpotter’s use ends.

But that runway doesn’t exist, Ald. Chris Taliaferro, 29, told the Tribune on Wednesday. Taliaferro said a ShotSpotter lobbyist informed him that the company had rejected Johnson’s extension.

“The bottom line is, we shouldn’t have expected anything different,” said Taliaferro, a former police officer and chairman of Johnson’s police and fire committee on the City Council. “You can’t blame ShotSpotter when we tell them we don’t believe in the service you offer. Why wait?”

From Wednesday through Thursday, Johnson officials and the company did not respond to questions about whether the police surveillance vehicle would remain in operation after the current contract expires Friday.

That lack of clarity was revealed at Thursday’s press conference when reporters quizzed Johnson for a “yes” or “no” answer about whether ShotSpotter would operate this weekend, and the mayor scolded him.

“Retiring and moving away from this particular form of technology while providing a track is what I said, that’s the understanding that you all need to work together and I’ll leave it that way,” Johnson said.

He added that “it is not my understanding” that ShotSpotter does not want to negotiate an extension.

Johnson has repeatedly emphasized the need for a track that would draw the city’s emergency response away from ShotSpotter, which uses light pole-mounted acoustic sensors mostly on the South and West Sides to quickly alert police to the location of suspicious gunfire. He also said the city will not replace ShotSpotter with other gunshot detection technology.

The mayor campaigned on a promise to stop the city’s use of the device; It was the goal of activists who gained notoriety in 2021 after a gunshot alarm from a Little Village street sent police chasing 13-year-old Adam Toledo. During the chase, an officer fatally shot Toledo.

Johnson’s announcement Tuesday that ShotSpotter would be discontinued in September was applauded as a kept promise from activists who argue the technology is being used to over-surveill and racially profile communities of color. But in late January, as ShotSpotter’s future in Chicago was called into question, police Chief Larry Snelling publicly praised ShotSpotter for speeding emergency response to shootings and saving lives.

ShotSpotter CEO Ralph Clark brushed off questions Wednesday about whether the company would operate in Chicago through the summer. Instead, he argued that the value of the technology is in the “lives saved.”

“During its deployment in Chicago, ShotSpotter led police to locate hundreds of gunshot victims for whom there was no corresponding call to 911. These were victims who likely would not have received help without ShotSpotter.” Clark said.

If ShotSpotter’s use suddenly ends in the near future, it would mean a “tremendous deal” for the city, Taliaferro said Wednesday. He said police leaders should strive to find stopgap measures to expedite firearms response.

“They have to find a way,” he said.

A Chicago Police Department spokesman referred questions about the city’s ShotSpotter contract to Johnson administration officials.



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