To the Editor: 

Recently, a group of aldermen called for a joint hearing of the Budget and Public Safety Committees to discuss the city’s contract with Shotspotter Inc. Many may already know a bit about Shotspotter, many may not. Everyone should get behind ending this contract. I am specifically asking the 5th Ward’s Alderman, Leslie A. Hairston, to advocate against this contract.

Shotspotter supplies the city with what is called “precision policing” software. It is meant to detect gunshots and send police to the site of detection. However, all this system does is increase already disproportionate amounts of police presence in Black and Brown neighborhoods, placing them in dangerous situations. There is already proof that this software can be deadly to these communities, to our communities. Adam Toledo’s death was a matter of national concern. He was just 13 years old when a Chicago Police Department officer fatally shot him — a police officer that had been summoned to the scene by a Shotspotter alert. A system that brings more police and thus more harm to our communities is a system that we cannot continue to fund and deploy.

To make matters worse, this software is expensive and ridiculously inaccurate. This contract costs over $10 million a year for detection services that are woefully flawed. The company markets its technology as accurately detecting gunshots in 97 percent of cases, but this is clearly false, given data analyzed by AP and the Chicago Office of Inspector General (OIG). The OIG determined that “Of (the total 50,176 ShotSpotter-related) dispositions, a total of 4,556 indicate that evidence of a gun-related criminal offense was found, representing 9.1% of CPD responses to ShotSpotter alerts.” This means that about 90% of the times that Shotspotter sends out an alert, there is no proven threat of gunfire.

And yet the Chicago Police Department has already renewed its contract with Shotspotter behind closed doors. It is infuriating that a system which actively harms our communities gets $10 million dollars of funding per year without our consent, or even our input. I firmly believe Chicago’s contract with Shotspotter should be ended immediately and the funds should be redirected to community-driven initiatives such as the Peacebook Ordinance and the Community Restoration Ordinance. I, and many of my neighbors, will be closely observing the actions of Leslie Hairston to end this contract as soon as possible.

Valentina Villarroel

(1) comment


Arguing that ShotSpotter is bad because it alerts to gunshots in communities of color, is an odd argument. Are gun offenders to be favored over victims and the community? In the case of Adam Toledo, the system worked. He had a gun and had gunshot residue on his hand. Judging the system, based on the percentage of "proven gun shots" is a poor choice. Are we really expecting a body, or obvious shell casings in every case? Some firearms don't drop casings. Casings are frequently lost, taken or disturbed. Are we really to rely on unreliable 911 calls instead of using proven technology which is always alert?

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