ShotSpotter technology makes dent in Chicago's crime - but raises privacy concerns

Chicago police continue to grapple with one of the country’s highest murder rates — 650 peopled murdered in 2017 — but it is making some serious headway in some of its most infamously dangerous neighborhoods.

The department largely credits the drop in violent crime in Englewood – which saw a stunning 43 percent drop in shootings last year – to its use of ShotSpotter technology, which is basically a sonar and camera placed atop utility poles that instantly detects gun shots and alerts police.

"Instead of saying it sounds like its coming from over here, or it may be over here, with ShotSpotter it’s showing us it’s on this location, this is where it’s coming from, this is how many rounds,” said Chicago Police Commander, Kenneth Johnson.

But the aggressive expansion of the new technology is not drawing praise from everyone. Privacy experts say by using ShotSpotter, the city might be heading down a slippery slope.

The Chicago Police Department largely credits the drop in violent crime in Englewood – which saw a stunning 43 percent drop in shootings last year – to its use of ShotSpotter technology, which is basically a sonar and camera placed atop utility poles that instantly detects gun shots and alerts police.

The Chicago Police Department largely credits the drop in violent crime in Englewood – which saw a stunning 43 percent drop in shootings last year – to its use of ShotSpotter technology, which is basically a sonar and camera placed atop utility poles that instantly detects gun shots and alerts police.

"I think it's an avalanche,” said attorney Daniel Massoglia. “The state of camera surveillance is unique globally almost. We're one of the most heavily surveilled cities in the country."

ShotSpotter is currently in use in other cities across the country. Massoglia says he also questions if the technology is as beneficial as police claim.

"I would say that without independent vetting of ShotSpotter's claims and of the police's claims, we should take them with a serious grain of salt,” Massoglia said.

A ShotSpotter camera potentially captures entire crimes on video with crystal clear quality. When gunfire is detected, police stationed inside the ShotSpotter command center at police headquarters are able to instantly monitor the unfolding situation from surveillance monitors and send officers to the scene.

Police say the tech dramatically reduces response time from as much as eight minutes to just 30 seconds by essentially eliminating time-consuming 911 calls.

The aggressive expansion of the new technology is not drawing praise from everyone. Privacy experts say by using ShotSpotter, the city might be heading down a slippery slope.

The aggressive expansion of the new technology is not drawing praise from everyone. Privacy experts say by using ShotSpotter, the city might be heading down a slippery slope. (ShotSpotter)

ShotSpotter is such a success, this year Chicago is expanding the tech from two of its most dangerous police districts to a total of eight.

"Those two districts before we started this program were the two districts that lead the violence in the city,” Johnson said. “Now those two districts lead the reductions in the violence in the city now."

CPD says by 2019, 100 square miles of Chicago will be blanketed in ShotSpotter technology, making use of about 40,000 surveillance cameras—the majority of which were already installed as a part of CPD’s surveillance system.