Chicago PD Oversight Says ShotSpotter Tech Is Mostly Useless When It Comes To Fighting Gun Crime

from the but-that's-the-thing-it-says-it's-good-at-[confused-noises] dept

Gunshot detection tech provider ShotSpotter is fighting a PR battle on multiple fronts after more news surfaced that its analysts may alter detection records to fit police narratives and investigators’ theories. Communications and court documents obtained by the Associated Press confirmed ShotSpotter allows law enforcement officers to request modifications to detection records. And the company apparently used to allow police officers to modify the data themselves.

In addition to its questionable handling of evidence, ShotSpotter is also shedding customers. Law enforcement agencies in some cities have decided it’s not worth paying for a product that can’t reliably detect gunshots. Cities that have dumped ShotSpotter have reported false positive rates as high as 75%.

ShotSpotter has fired back, claiming everyone reporting on its tech is wrong about its tech. It also claims it doesn’t alter or allow alteration to reports submitted as evidence in criminal cases. Its assertions ring pretty fucking hollow in the face of all of this reporting, which relies on documents filed in court or obtained through public records requests. ShotSpotter’s claims, however, are supported by nothing more than the company’s own ineffective anger.

Now, there’s even more evidence showing ShotSpotter isn’t worth paying for. The Chicago PD’s Inspector General has concluded its investigation of the tech the city pays roughly $11 million/year for. And it has found the tech doesn’t seem to be worth the money.

The City of Chicago Office of Inspector General’s (OIG) Public Safety section has issued a report on the Chicago Police Department’s (CPD) use of ShotSpotter acoustic gunshot detection technology and CPD’s response to ShotSpotter alert notifications. OIG concluded from its analysis that CPD responses to ShotSpotter alerts can seldom be shown to lead to investigatory stops which might have investigative value and rarely produce evidence of a gun-related crime.


The CPD data examined by OIG does not support a conclusion that ShotSpotter is an effective tool in developing evidence of gun-related crime.

That’s pretty damning. Compare and contrast with ShotSpotter’s own irate statements in defense of its product:

[T]he ShotSpotter system is highly accurate at detecting outdoor gunshots and benefits communities battling gun violence.

Well, there’s plenty of evidence out there saying the system isn’t accurate. And this report [PDF] by the Chicago PD’s oversight contradicts the second part of the company’s claim. It isn’t benefiting “communities battling gun violence.” According to this investigation, only the rarest spotted shot leads to anything that might battle gun violence.

And, according to this investigation, the installation of the tech is actually causing more problems for areas of Chicago where gun violence is already an issue. ShotSpotter has given Chicago police officers yet another excuse to engage in suspicionless stops and searches. This is from the report:

In reviewing ISR [investigative stop report] narratives for mentions of ShotSpotter alerts, OIG also identified 10 ISRs (13.9%) in which reporting officers referred to the aggregate results of the ShotSpotter system as informing their decision to initiate a stop or their course of action during the stop, even when they were not responding to a specific ShotSpotter alert. For example, some officers during the reporting period identified the fact of being in an area known to have frequent ShotSpotter alerts as an element of the reasonable suspicion required to justify the stop. Other officers reported conducting “protective pat downs” following a stop because they knew themselves to be in areas where ShotSpotter alerts were frequent.

If there’s a silver lining for ShotSpotter in this report, it’s one that only benefits the tech provider, rather than Chicago residents. The Inspector General says it’s possible there are more investigations linked to ShotSpotter detections, but it can’t really tell because the Chicago PD’s recordkeeping is a mess. What the IG sees is almost no connection between ShotSpotter reports and gun-crime investigations. But there’s a slim chance this may be the PD’s fault.

If this result is attributable in part to missing or nonmatched records of investigatory stops that did take place as a direct consequence of a ShotSpotter alert, CPD’s record-keeping practices are obstructing a meaningful analysis of the effectiveness of the technology.

And, if that’s part of the problem, then that’s on the Chicago PD if the city decides to stop paying $11 million a year for nothing more than additional rights violations by police officers.

Filed Under: , , ,
Companies: shotspotter

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Chicago PD Oversight Says ShotSpotter Tech Is Mostly Useless When It Comes To Fighting Gun Crime”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Social construction of crime. When you steal $100 from an employer, its a crime. When your employer steals $100 from your wages, its a civil matter.

When you shoot someone, you are assumed a criminal by the police. When a police officer shoots someone, a presumption of lawful action is made.

And when you falsify evidence its a crime. When a cop falsifies evidence, its just a civil rights violation in the line of duty.

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Chicago has gun control. Were you really so stupid to post that without checking?

The real issue is that Chicago has gun control, but not the surrounding areas or neighboring states. The real issue is that gun control doesn’t do a lot to address the guns already in the streets. The real issue is that shouting gun control from the top of the roof tops is as asininely simplistic a solution as "Moar cops", "Moar Guns" and "Shotspotter" are.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...