The Financial Cost and Illusory Benefits

ShotSpotter drains millions of dollars of taxpayer resources every year without any clear benefits to public safety.

In 2018, the City of Chicago entered a $33 million, three-year contract with ShotSpotter. Over the past two years, the City has paid ShotSpotter about $10 million per year.

The City then spends millions of additional dollars for police officers to chase down tens of thousands of dead-end ShotSpotter alerts every year.

The City of Chicago’s contract with ShotSpotter expires August 19, 2021. The City must decide whether to exercise its option to extend the contract.

ShotSpotter is touted as a tool that reduces gun crime by allowing police to identify more shooting incidents and direct police to an incident faster than traditional 9-1-1 calls. Studies by academic researchers have found these supposed benefits are illusory.

A 2021 study of 68 large metropolitan counties that adopted ShotSpotter over the course of 17 years—from 1999 to 2016—found that “implementing ShotSpotter technology has no significant impact on firearm-related homicides or arrest outcomes.

A 2020 study of ShotSpotter in St. Louis concluded that the ShotSpotter system produced “no reductions in serious violent crimes, yet . . . increase[d] demands on police resources.”

The same 2020 study found that “citizen-initiated calls for service are over seven times more efficient in uncovering and responding to criminal behavior” than ShotSpotter alerts, and that ShotSpotter did “not appear to deliver a consistent improvement in the response time to calls for shots fired.”

A 2018 study of a similar acoustic gunshot detection system in Philadelphia found that the system “did not significantly affect the number of confirmed shootings, but it did increase the workload of police attending incidents for which no evidence of a shooting was found.”

A 2017 study of OEMC data from Chicago published in the South Side Weekly found that “[o]f the 508 ShotSpotter alerts that lead to opened cases, 435—eighty-five percent—were also reported within five minutes by civilian calls to 911, police reports, or other on-the-ground witnesses. The same study found that ShotSpotter was only 2.2 seconds faster than human reports of gunfire.”

Learn more about the burden on communities of color