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ShotSpotter Retreat Extends Beyond Chicago

When Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson announced that the city would not renew its contract with SoundThinking, the California-based company behind the ShotSpotter gunshot-detection service, he joined a list of cities that have done the same over the past decade amid controversy over whether the service lives up to its violence-reduction billing, Stateline reports. Chicago was spending around $9 million annually on one of the biggest installations in the country, covering around 100 square miles. More than 150 cities nationwide use ShotSpotter in an effort to help police departments respond to more incidences of gunfire, which often go unreported by residents. Cities that have recently shown new or continued interest in the technology include Cleveland, Seattle and Little Rock, Arkansas. Leaders say it can help save gunshot victims’ lives by enabling emergency responders to get to the scene of a shooting more quickly. As a result, they add, investigators can more quickly recover ballistic and bullet casing evidence used to solve crimes.

But over the past decade, cities around the country such as Atlanta; Charlotte, N.C.; New Orleans; and San Antonio have decided to discontinue their use of ShotSpotter. Those decisions coincided with a growing body of research showing that ShotSpotter has not succeeded in reducing gun violence, has slowed police response times to emergency calls, and often did not lead to evidence recovery. SoundThinking has vigorously disputed criticism about ShotSpotter’s efficacy. As cities continue to reevaluate their strategies for bringing down gun assault numbers, which spiked during the pandemic and are now falling, they must focus on tools that are proven to keep their communities safe, especially with strained resources, said Thomas Abt, a senior fellow at the Council on Criminal Justice, a nonpartisan think tank, and an associate research professor in criminology and criminal justice at the University of Maryland. “It’s troubling to have a powerful for-profit vendor pushing this strategy that has been widely adopted, but there’s not a lot of evidence that it’s particularly effective,” Abt said.


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