May 22, 2024 - News

Chicago alders vote for greater voice on safety tech

man in blue suit

Ald. David Moore (17th) sponsored a measure to give City Council more say in safety funding. Photo: Monica Eng/Axios

City Council members voted 34-14 Wednesday to give themselves a greater voice in determining continued use of safety technology, specifically the controversial shot detection program ShotSpotter.

Why it matters: The vote challenges Mayor Brandon Johnson's decision earlier this year to stop using ShotSpotter this fall, and it could put more power into the hands of council members for violence-prevention funding decisions.

  • Johnson, however, believes the measure "does nothing."

Catch up quick: In February, Johnson announced the ShotSpotter contract would end this fall, after the city hosts the Democratic National Convention.

  • Also in February, Ald. David Moore (17th) introduced the ordinance that Wednesday. It requires the Chicago Police Department to collect and report more data about ShotSpotter's accuracy, as well as a City Council vote before the mayor removes "any violence prevention funding," including ShotSpotter.

Between the lines: Critics of the technology have long pointed to reports, including a 2021 city inspector general study, that ShotSpotter leads to false reports of gunshots and few gun-related arrests.

  • But supporters, including Chicago police, say it's often the first, or only, alert to criminal activity that officers receive and that it helps authorities respond quickly and gather evidence.

Friction point: Alders who want to keep using ShotSpotter claim calls to end the contract come largely from progressive activists who live in neighborhoods less affected by gun violence.

  • "Every person that I've heard that testified that they want to get rid of ShotSpotter is living in communities where ain't no shots being fired," Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) said.

The intrigue: Supporters of extending the contract have formed an alliance among white Northwest Side pro-police alders and council members from Black and Latino communities that use the technology.

  • Some of those supporters pressed the mayor on why he decided to continue using what he considers a flawed technology through the DNC.
  • "So it's good enough for the DNC but not my constituents?" Monique Scott (24th) asked.

The other side: Ald. Jessie Fuentes (26th) who represents Humboldt Park countered that her ward uses the technology and still sees a lot of violence including the death of her "best friend" and "we just had a 4-year-old boy shot, and ShotSpotter didn't prevent it," she said.

  • "I'm not saying that we shouldn't invest in a system that makes our communities safe. I'm saying right now we're discussing a system that has been found to be ineffective."

Reality check: After the vote Moore stressed that the measure is largely meant to "give the people a voice" in safety decisions.

  • He said he now expects the CPD to deliver better monthly data on the technology and for Johnson to be compelled to bring the issue before the City Council this fall before ending the contract.
  • Still, Moore acknowledges that Johnson could defy a council vote about an extension.

What's next: Johnson did not directly answer questions about whether he'd veto the measure, saying only he's made his decision on ending the contract and "this City Council … does not have executive authority."

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