Use of the acoustic fire detection system by the Chicago Police Department ShotSpotter has gotten a sharp focus in the past few weeks, especially after 13 year old Adam Toledo was fatally shot by an officer in March Respond to warnings from technology.
A new study from Northwestern University MacArthur Justice Center found that 86% of ShotSpotter alerts did not result in a police report of a crime or incident, raising questions about the value of technology in reducing violence.
On Monday, a coalition of nonprofits represented by the MacArthur Justice Center filed an amicus letter in a pending murder case, based on evidence from ShotSpotter.
Black Voices invited ShotSpotter and the Chicago Police Department to join the conversation. CPD did not respond to our request. ShotSpotter declined and sent the following statement:
ShotSpotter’s highly effective technology, with 97% nationwide accuracy, is a critical tool for law enforcement to provide rapid relief to victims of gun violence, reduce violent crime and bring peace to communities suffering from persistent gun violence.
“ShotSpotter technology is incredibly accurate and alerts officers to the exact location of shooting events in less than 60 seconds. They find victims in need, get medical attention faster, and save lives.
“Nationally, more than 80% of shots go unreported to 911. Our technology fills the void in Chicago and 110 other cities in the US, helping police officers fight crime and save lives in real time.”
Jonathan Manes, attorney for MacArthur Justice Center, says it is unclear what “exactly” means in relation to ShotSpotter.
“I don’t see how they get to the accuracy rate when we find that 86% of the time they find no evidence of a crime or other reportable incident,” said Manes. “We know ShotSpotter has never conducted a properly validated study to determine how often the system is triggered by fireworks and construction noise. So it seems very likely to me that a lot of these alerts are the system that responds to other loud noises we have in a city like Chicago and they send the police out thinking there are gunshots when there probably aren’t . “
Lucy Parsons lab director Freddy Martinez said his organization’s concerns about ShotSpotter go beyond accuracy.
“ShotSpotter is not found in a predominantly white neighborhood. Obviously we know that there is no gun violence in these neighborhoods,” he said. “So what happens is that cops think there is gunfire going on, run to the scene where black and brown people hang out, and really just think everyone is an armed suspect. It’s pretty dangerous and leads to very harmful interactions, which is one of the things we saw in the Adam Toledo case. If it wasn’t for ShotSpotter, if it wasn’t for the high-risk foothunting, then maybe this kid would be alive today. “
Artinese Myrick, a community organizer with faith-based organization Live Free Chicago, says the people she works with in the communities where ShotSpotter devices are located don’t believe they are effective.
“We still die when the police are there. ShotSpotter only monitors and monitors black communities. It doesn’t make them safe, ”Myrick said.
While ShotSpotter’s reports resulted in more than 5,000 police reports, that number doesn’t justify its use or cost, Manes said.
Lucy Parsons Labs was among three nonprofits that filed an amicus letter asking Cook County to remove ShotSpotter evidence from a pending murder trial.
“We have scientific standards for evidence that should be included in a court case,” Martinez said. “One of the arguments we are making is that this evidence is not up to a scientific standard. We don’t want DNA evidence to be included if it is false nine times out of ten.”
And when it comes to the amount of money the city spends on using ShotSpotter, Myrick believes it should be better spent elsewhere.
“$ 33 million is a lot to invest in the black community,” said Myrick. “This could be used for prevention services, holistic mental health services and hospital-related services. Centered policing was not seen as a deterrent to crime or to keep people safe. That $ 33 million could be used for prevention services that could potentially save lives. “