Could Houston be next to end 'ShotSpotter' after Chicago cuts ties with gunfire detection system?

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Wednesday, February 14, 2024
'ShotSpotter' fizzles out in other cities. Could Houston be next?
Chicago is not renewing its contract with SoundThinking for controversial tech used to detect shootings. Could Houston be next to remove ShotSpotter?

Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson's office announced that the city will be allowing its contract with the makers of ShotSpotter to expire. The technology, made by SoundThinking, had been criticized by activists as being too costly and ineffective, including by those here in Houston.

The $49 million contract in Chicago, which was set to expire Friday, will be extended through Sept. 22 but end after that.

Chicago has used the gunfire detection system since 2018, but critics say the catalyst for this decision came from the chase and deadly police shooting of a 13-year-old in 2021 that started after a ShotSpotter alert.

Supporters in Chicago argue dropping the program will hurt the communities that need it the most. ShotSpotter was hailed as a tool to help police respond to shootings faster by detecting the sound of gunshots and automatically alerting police, sometimes before a 911 call.

However, in Houston, the technology, which is mainly embedded in the Black and brown communities, isn't believed to be making a huge difference and is making residents feel uncomfortable about their relationship with law enforcement, according to a report by ABC13 partners at the Houston Chronicle.

Last year, the report looked at 6,300 alerts made between December 2022 and March 2023.

Of those, more than 80% were canceled, marked as unfounded, or dismissed as information calls because officers couldn't find anything.

The Houston Police Department revealed in a February 2023 report to the city council that officers recorded only 99 arrests and 126 charges out of more than 5,400 alerts.

READ MORE: 'ShotSpotter' not curbing violence and only delaying HPD response times, Houston Chronicle reports

Supporters said the tech helped police better respond to shootings, but critics said it never worked the way it was touted to.

ABC13 has also reached out to Houston Mayor John Whitmire's office about the city's commitment to the technology and is awaiting their response. Houston began investing millions into ShotSpotter back in 2020.

During a recent public meeting about ShotSpotter, the company's president addressed concerns but said the technology exceeded accuracy requirements under the contract.

"ShotSpotter is not a perfect technology; I don't know that any technology is perfect," SoundThinking President Ralph Clark said.

Supporters worry doing away with ShotSpotter could lead to an increase in violence, but others say the money could be used for different things, like more license plate reading technology to help respond to carjackings.

Read Johnson's full statement below:

"The City of Chicago will not renew its contract with SoundThinking that expires February 16, 2024, and will decommission the use of ShotSpotter technology on September 22, 2024. During the interim period, law enforcement and other community safety stakeholders will assess tools and programs that effectively increase both safety and trust and issue recommendations to that effect.

"In advance of the decommissioning in September, the Chicago Police Department will work to revamp operations within the Strategic Decision Support Centers, implement new training, and further develop response models to gun violence that ultimately reduce shootings and increase accountability.

"Moving forward, the City of Chicago will deploy its resources on the most effective strategies and tactics proven to accelerate the current downward trend in violent crime. Doing this work, in consultation with community, violence prevention organizations, and law enforcement, provides a pathway to a better, stronger, safer Chicago for all."

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