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ShotSpotter reliability questioned, but Lightfoot stands firm

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

* Tom Schuba at the Sun-Times

An analysis of the city’s gunshot detection system released Monday found that nearly 86% of police deployments to alerts of gunfire prompted no formal reports of any crime.

The research, conducted by the MacArthur Justice Center at the Northwestern University School of Law, shows there were more that 40,000 “dead-end deployments” to gunshot alerts recorded between July 2019 and mid-April — an average of 61 each day.

Just 10% of the alerts over that period sent officers on calls that likely involved guns, the researchers found after analyzing records kept by the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications. […]

But activists continue to raise concerns about ShotSpotter’s ability to distinguish between gunfire and other loud noises like fireworks. In addition, alarms are being sounded over the technology’s potential to increase the number of highly charged law enforcement interactions in police districts with large minority populations.

“It sends police racing into communities searching, often in vain, for gunfire,” said Jessey Neves, a spokeswoman for the MacArthur Justice Center. “Any resident in the area will be a target of police suspicion or worse. These volatile deployments can go wrong in an instant.”

* From the MacArthur Justice Center

ShotSpotter has never done a scientifically valid study to determine whether its system can reliably tell the difference between the sound of gunfire and other loud noises like firecrackers, cars backfiring, construction noises, helicopters, and other harmless sounds. […]

The City of Chicago is one of ShotSpotter’s two largest customers, accounting for 18% of its annual revenue in 2020.

* Police Chief Magazine

Results show that [acoustic gunshot detector systems] simply seem to replace traditional calls for service and do so less efficiently and at a greater monetary cost to departments. Given the tepid results in guiding police to the scenes of crime and given the hidden costs of these systems illustrated here, AGDS might not be well-suited for the audience the technology is marketed toward. High-volume agencies will likely experience substantial increases in their call volumes with remarkably little to show for it, at a cost that might have taxpayers questioning the logic behind the expense. While this technology can be useful, especially from an analytical point of view, it is difficult to see how agencies benefit from expensive technology that increases financial strain on departments with its only discernable impact being fewer founded crime incidents.

* CBS 2

Company officials say ShotSpotter improves police relationships with communities by enhancing investigations, more quickly transporting shooting victims to hospitals and responding to gunfire even if no one calls 911, which they say happens in most instances.

“Our technology fills the gap in Chicago and 110 other cities across the United States, helping deploy officers to crime in real-time, saving lives,” ShotSpotter said in a statement.

“I think it’s hard to justify spending $33 million on a tool that sends police hunting for nonexistent gunfire almost nine times out of 10.” [Jonathan Manes of the MacArthur Justice Center said.]


In a press conference Monday, Mayor Lightfoot said the technology plays an important part of the city’s overall crime detection system.

“I’m not confident those numbers are actually accurate, but here’s what I do know; ShotSpotter technology, when coupled with cameras that we have in the SDSC rooms, no question whatsoever is a lifesaver,” she said.

Chicago police uses ShotSpotter technology in 12 of its 22 districts. It led officer Eric Stillman to the area of 24th and South Sawyer before the deadly shooting of 13-year-old Adam Toledo.

In 2018, the City of Chicago entered a $33 million, three-year contract with ShotSpotter. Chicago’s contract with ShotSpotter expires August 19, 2021.

Lightfoot said residents shouldn’t get the idea that the technology is going away.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - North Park - Tuesday, May 4, 21 @ 10:53 am:

    Los Angeles is also a major Shot Spotter customer. I lived on the edge of a transitional neighborhood for a while and unquestionably heard a gunshot one evening. Within minutes the fleet of the LAPD helicopters had descended on the area.

    It was actually kinda impressive.

  2. - EssentialStateEmployeeFromChatham - Tuesday, May 4, 21 @ 10:57 am:

    Springfield Police also uses ShotSpotter. In response to the rash of shootings here in the Capitol in recent years. But there were even questions last year on the reliability of the ShotSpotter findings here:

  3. - DuPage Saint - Tuesday, May 4, 21 @ 10:58 am:

    I would think just randomly driving around to certain areas might give you a ten per cent chance to hear gunfire
    And I certainly b liege that telling police you are headed to a place with gunfire would get their guard up and make them anxious and maybe more likely to over react or come in looking for trouble

  4. - Juvenal - Tuesday, May 4, 21 @ 11:01 am:

    === more quickly transporting shooting victims to hospitals ===

    The ambulance arrived more than five minutes after Adam Toledo was shot.

    === “I’m not confident those numbers are actually accurate” - Lori Lightfoot ===

    Because researchers at Northwestern have a long track record of being wrong, because you have your own data to back up ShotSpotter, or because you are categorically dismissive of any information that doesn’t conform to your pre-conceived views?

  5. - Flyin' Elvis'-Utah Chapter - Tuesday, May 4, 21 @ 11:03 am:

    Eight and a half out of ten call-outs result in no reports written?

    The reliability of this “detection” system is no longer in question.

  6. - @misterjayem - Tuesday, May 4, 21 @ 11:09 am:

    I’ll license to the city my equally effective magic-stick-that-keeps-tigers-away for just a fraction of the cost of ShotSpotter.

    – MrJM

  7. - Blue Dog - Tuesday, May 4, 21 @ 11:12 am:

    That $11 million annually could put a few more cops on the street.

  8. - Birds on the Bat - Tuesday, May 4, 21 @ 11:16 am:

    That $11 million annually could put a few more cops on the street.

    This comment will go over real well here.

  9. - 1st Ward - Tuesday, May 4, 21 @ 11:23 am:

    I’d be interested to know who the owner of ShotSpotter is and their historical relationship with politicians in this town. Whether speed or red light cameras seems like there’s always a money trail that leads back to conflict of interest issues if not worse and little questioning/analysis being done by bureaucrats and politicians when it comes to government contracts like these.

  10. - cover - Tuesday, May 4, 21 @ 11:29 am:

    = magic-stick-that-keeps-tigers-away =


    Maybe that should be a stick to keep gators away, so the city doesn’t have another Chance the Snapper.

  11. - levivotedforjudy - Tuesday, May 4, 21 @ 11:32 am:

    Police cannot be everywhere in a big city. I wonder how many people giving the academic/economic opinions on this live in neighborhoods with a lot of gun fire. If it can speed up the response to a situation and pinpoint where to go, it seems worth it, although an actuary may put a dollar figure on a few (or many) lives lost to gun fire to determine a ROI. Harsh, but a reality.

  12. - JP Altgeld - Tuesday, May 4, 21 @ 11:39 am:

    The lack of a report being written shouldn’t be the metric. CPD is definitely getting to the sights of shootings faster because of Shotspotter, no doubt about it, and not all of those visits result in reports (sometimes everyone has run away by the time they arrive).

    Doesn’t mean the system is great or worth $33m but they aren’t assessing it properly.

  13. - Been There - Tuesday, May 4, 21 @ 11:48 am:

    === Eight and a half out of ten call-outs result in no reports written?
    The reliability of this “detection” system is no longer in question.====
    You can’t write up a report if people won’t talk to you and come forward as witnesses. Unless you find the shooter or a body. That stat itself doesn’t mean it’s unreliable.

  14. - Crash - Tuesday, May 4, 21 @ 11:58 am:

    Sorry if this sounds flippant given the issue, but do cars still backfire?
    I don’t think I’ve heard one do that since the 1970s.

    Firecrackers, construction noises, and helicopters I get, but cars backfiring seems like an odd addition to that list.

  15. - ArchPundit - Tuesday, May 4, 21 @ 12:02 pm:

    Idea for reporters–do a FOIA on the RFP and response see if there was a requirement for evidence that the system works and what the evidence presented was. If not asked for–then what the heck did they rate it on.

  16. - 47th Ward - Tuesday, May 4, 21 @ 12:05 pm:

    I look at a couple of neighborhood FB groups and anytime someone hears something, they post about hearing gunshots. Many times it was simply fireworks, but the motto on these threads is to always call it in to 911 so there’s a record.

    It can be hard to tell the difference between fireworks and gun fire, but there are some obvious signs. The pace of reports is generally more even with fireworks and less even for gun shots. Also, a lot of fireworks have the signature “ruffle” sound after the report.

    OTOH, if you hear a couple of fire crackers go off and then a car screaching away at high speed, then maybe those weren’t fire crackers.

    Not a perfect system, but cheaper than ShotSpotter. And remember, when in doubt, call 911.

  17. - Blue Dog - Tuesday, May 4, 21 @ 12:06 pm:

    Sorry Birds. Let me amend that. That $11 million can puts lots of social workers on the street.

  18. - RNUG - Tuesday, May 4, 21 @ 12:06 pm:

    Given the hesitancy to talk to police in some neighborhoods, it is likely the real number is somewhere in-between the report count and the shot spotter count, and most likely closer to the shot spotter count. It may only count noises and get some wrong, but is an objective number whereas written reports are more subjective.

  19. - Oswego Willy - Tuesday, May 4, 21 @ 12:09 pm:

    === This comment will go over real well here.===


    Ever the victim.

    Policing needs to evolve when policing sees body cameras and other oversight as “too much” to be a cop.

  20. - JoanP - Tuesday, May 4, 21 @ 12:17 pm:

    = I’d be interested to know who the owner of ShotSpotter is =

  21. - Last Bull Moose - Tuesday, May 4, 21 @ 12:26 pm:

    As others have said, reports filed is a poor metric. If you ditch the weapon or leave quickly, maybe in a car, the police wil not catch you. If nobody talks, there is little to report.

    The next step is to put cameras on drones to patrol areas and respond quickly. Would not go to armed drones. Still need the police to close and arrest.

  22. - Jockey - Tuesday, May 4, 21 @ 1:11 pm:

    “I’m not confident those numbers are actually accurate, but here’s what I do know; ShotSpotter technology, when coupled with cameras that we have in the SDSC rooms, no question whatsoever is a lifesaver,” she said.

    Tip for reporters: an even bigger waste of money and resources is the SDSC rooms. ShotSpotter is just one tool the city wastes money on in these rooms. The require officers to man 24/7 and had very little impact on violence. Also, the rooms were not very much help in deploying officers during last summers unrest.

  23. - Precinct Captain - Tuesday, May 4, 21 @ 1:21 pm:

    A worthless surveillance tool held up as a godsend by the Chicago Police and their sycophants.

  24. - Flying Elvis'-Utah Chapter - Tuesday, May 4, 21 @ 2:32 pm:

    “You can’t write up a report if no one talks to you”

    Yeah, and your point?

    If it’s meant as a deterrent, well, criminals know it rarely leads to any arrest.

    So, what good is the system?

  25. - Hector - Tuesday, May 4, 21 @ 3:18 pm:

    RNUG at 12:06


  26. - Been There - Tuesday, May 4, 21 @ 3:43 pm:

    ==== If it’s meant as a deterrent, well, criminals know it rarely leads to any arrest.
    So, what good is the system?====
    It’s not necessarily a deterrent as much as a tool to respond. They hear the shots immediately and respond. Quicker than people calling in.

  27. - Casual commenter - Tuesday, May 4, 21 @ 4:07 pm:

    The system does bring a law enforcement presence to the area and can lead to wounded victims being located more quickly. I’d be curious as to how often officers responding find a bleeding victim and no shooter versus somebody still on scene firing shots.

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