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City Defends Quiet Contract Extension For ShotSpotter Gunfire Detection System As Residents Complain

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Chicago Police took heat Monday for a controversial contract extension for the gunfire detection system known as ShotSpotter – an issue we have been uncovering at CBS 2 for months.

As CBS 2 Investigator Megan Hickey reported, the city on Monday defended the contract's quiet two-year extension. The Office of Public Safety Administration said the ShotSpotter contract was extended because the company lived up to the requirements in the contract.

The problem is none of those metrics involve whether or not the expensive tool actually makes the city safer.

Police Supt. David Brown jumped to the defense of the controversial tech during a Chicago Police budget hearing held on Monday.

"If one life is saved, we should keep that tool in our toolbox," Brown said.

Ahead of the meeting, residents flooded the Committee on the Budget and Government Operations with a form letter asking for contract to be canceled.

The reason is information like Deputy Inspector General Deborah Witzburg outlined back in August.

"The data we analyzed plainly doesn't demonstrate a substantial benefit to the use of this technology," Witzburg said.

A MacArthur Justice Center study and an Office of Inspector General investigation have found that the majority of ShotSpotter-based deployments in Chicago turn up no evidence of any reportable incident or crime — let alone gun crime.

Yet we uncovered the fact that the contract was quietly extended for two years back in December without any public input.

"We're surprised that the contract was signed with no public notice, no public comment, no input, just apparently behind closed doors," Jonathan Manes of the MacArthur Justice Center said in August.

Brown said Monday that he supports the gunshot detection technology, but they are not necessarily planning to stay with ShotSpotter as a vendor.

"It's about gunshot detection technology, regardless of the vendor," Brown said.

We learned the city plans to request proposals at the end of ShotSpotter's extension in 2023.

"The contract had the stipulation to extend," said Chicago Deputy Director Public Safety IT Dan Casey.

But as for why the $33 million contract was extended – a question we've been asking for months – Casey explained that ShotSpotter fulfilled their end of the bargain.

They had to deliver on three things:

1. Location: providing a precise location of the gunfire incident within 25 meters;
2. Timeliness: CPD has to be notified within 60 seconds;
3. Uptime: the system has to be up 99.9 percent of the time.

But as some critics pointed out, none of those requirements measure whether or not the system actually identifies gunshots versus other loud sounds, or whether the system actually makes the neighborhood with these sensors safer.

ShotSpotter isn't part of CPD's budget. It is in the Public Safety Administration's budget, which is why the Public Safety Committee is planning a follow up discussion on Wednesday, Oct. 13 at 3 p.m.

Meanwhile, the CBS 2 Investigators have been trying to for months to get to the root of the decision to renew the ShotSpotter contract in a way that involved no public input and could be described as clandestine.

For that purpose, we have filed multiple Freedom of Information Act requests for emails and other correspondence. In return, we have received documents, but with hundreds of pages covered in redactions to the point where little information could be gleaned.

We're still pushing for answers.

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