Fact Checking Chicago Mayor’s Lies on ShotSpotter

July 3, 2024

In an interview with Brandon Pope discussing gunshot technology, Johnson told whopper after whopper

In the little more than one year Brandon Johnson has served as mayor, if there is one feature of the mayor’s political persona Chicago has come to accept it is lying is sort of a habit of his.

In the last six months alone, Mr. Johnson has established quite a record of lying. Ahead of the March 19 primary election in which his treasured Bring Chicago Home (BCH) referendum was on the ballot, to build support and sympathy for the measure, Johnson spent months claiming 68,000 homeless were living on Chicago’s streets.

A hysterical number, Johnson contending 68,000 were homeless did not merely strain credulity, it defied immense evidence assembled by the Department of Housing and Urban Development which in 2023 projected the total number of homeless across Illinois at 7,902. Despite the falsity, Johnson maintained the fiction of 68,000 homeless as he was orchestrating a crude campaign to extract more tax dollars to “address” homelessness. Johnson’s lie was met with scorn and derision by voters, and BCH went down in defeat.

In another instance of Johnson attempting to dupe residents, the mayor has developed the custom of assigning blame for the failure of his policies on Republicans or “MAGA extremists.” An outlandish assertion, Johnson attempting to portray Republicans in Chicago — a voting bloc with virtually no influence in Chicago politics — as dark demons of hate and responsible for his blunders and serial flops defies logic. An overwhelmingly Democrat city, no Republican has served as mayor since 1931, GOP aldermen are non-existent in the City Council, and in the 2020 presidential election, Joe Biden claimed a staggering 83 percent of Chicago voters on his way to winning the White House.

A man who lies fearlessly, Johnson was blurting out fictions even before becoming mayor. In several instances in which violence occurred during teen takeovers prior to his inauguration, the mayor wildly deceived, explained away or altogether excused pure criminality. Following teen turmoil downtown in April 2023, Johnson addressed media in Springfield and incredibly characterized obvious criminal behavior as youths committing a minor slipup or “bad choices.”

Since Johnson become mayor, there has been an impressive consistency to his fibbing: It never ceases, and it applies to every conceivable circumstance. Bearing this in mind, it should not be too terribly surprising Mayor Johnson Pinocchio-ed his way through a recent interview with WCUI’s Brandon Pope on the subject of ShotSpotter.

Though the range of Johnson’s sit-down with Pope was short and rather narrow, on the subject of ShotSpotter, the mayor lied about the efficacy of the gunfire detection technology for three-straight minutes. Broaching the subject of ShotSpotter gently, Pope quizzed the mayor over whether aldermen opposed to Johnson ending the city’s contract with SoundThinking should have influence over whether the technology should remain in their wards.

Portraying himself as someone who cares more, understands more, and simply knows more than City Council members, Johnson asserted ShotSpotter “does not keep us safe.” A lie by omission, while ShotSpotter may not lead to arrests or stopping violence, the system is not designed to lead Chicago Police (CPD) to arrests nor stop violence. Rather, the main purpose of ShotSpotter is to improve response time to the detection of gunfire, assist officers to locate victims, and provide responding officers a more correct location than a 911 call. A system which provides significant advantages to CPD, ShotSpotter also cuts time between time of dispatch to officer arrival, giving police a significant advantage to administer emergency treatment to victims and secure a crime scene to accumulate both physical and forensic evidence. More important, Johnson is enlightened enough to know executives with SoundThinking have never marketed ShotSpotter as a crime reduction system or a technology which reduces crime.

Continuing to serve up lies and half-truths with aplomb, Johnson referred to “report after report” claiming ShotSpotter is ineffective. A reference to two summaries casting doubt on the technology’s performance cobbled together by Kim Foxx’s Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office and the Office of the Inspector General, Johnson did not acknowledge ShotSpotter has been examined in numerous performance surveys. In two studies completed by the Rand Corporation, one of which was conducted in Chicago, analysts with the public policy institute attested to the reliability of ShotSpotter, yet Johnson and ShotSpotter’s critics cling to Kim Foxx and the Chicago OIG's highly politicized studies of the system.

Johnson makes the claim ShotSpotter was sold to Chicago as a “violence reduction tool.” An outrageous lie, the technology is styled ShotSpotter, not "shooter spotter" or "victim spotter." The system has never been advertised as a device to prevent or lower crime. The contract negotiated between Chicago and Sound Thinking does not promise ShotSpotter will fulfill any objective other than other detect and alert gunfire. Furthermore, under the contract negotiated with Chicago, ShotSpotter has a contractually guaranteed 90-percent accuracy rate for detecting, classifying, and publishing outdoor gunfire incidents. According to the terms of the contract with Chicago, SoundThinking faces financial penalties for underperformance, yet only now — a decade after Chicago inked a deal with SoundThinking — Mayor Johnson is claiming ShotSpotter is “ineffective.”

In what was perhaps Johnson’s most outrageous claim, the mayor stated those strongly backing ShotSpotter support the technology for selfish reasons: Personal investment portfolios. A lie verging on fantasy, Johnson disgracefully conjures up the trope a criminal conspiracy, conceived in greed, with investors benefiting from capitalism run amok and at the expense of victims of crime. An absurd and appalling line of reasoning to dispute to utility of ShotSpotter technology, it seems as if Mayor Johnson needs a reminder Motorola Solutions has agreements with Chicago to provide software tools to buttress CPD’s fight against crime, yet the mayor neither assailed Motorola or its shareholders, nor has the telecommunications giant faced the same examination from the mayor or his progressive allies for Motorola’s products and services.

Though empirical evidence demonstrates ShotSpotter fulfills its promise, Mayor Johnson’s position on the system remains deeply at odds with officials in Chicago law enforcement and among lawmakers. In May, during a contentious debate in the City Council over whether lawmakers would determine the fate of ShotSpotter, 34 aldermen, 21 of whom are minority, voted in favor of depriving Johnson of the independence to end Chicago’s contract with ShotSpotter.  

In addition to aldermen resistant to Johnson acting without the consent of the City Council, Johnson's choice for Superintendent of Police, Larry Snelling, has publicly stated he favors keeping ShotSpotter. Just as Superintendent Snelling supports the technology, so too did former Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who, along with 170 mayors across the country, resisted calls from community groups and some progressive lawmakers to dismantle ShotSpotter owing to their understanding of the gunfire detection system’s use and success.

Worse, still, is Mayor Johnson’s insistence the cancellation of ShotSpotter was a decision he came to out of his fiduciary responsibility to taxpayers. Words which betray a shallow understanding of city finances, SoundThinking’s contract with Chicago is $9.4 million annually. This annual cost comprises a mere four-tenths of one-percent of the Chicago Police Department’s yearly budget. With the CPD’s annual expenditure plan at $2 billion, for Johnson to say removing ShotSpotter out of concern for taxpayers or him casting his cold eye on budgetary excesses is preposterous. It is also worth noting Mayor Johnson recently announced his aim to expand the Emergency Supplemental Victims Fund, which provides cash assistance to victims of gun violence. An odd gesture, apparently Mayor Johnson finds it more cost effective to help families lay a wreath than invest in a technology which could save lives.

ShotSpotter does considerably more than merely detect gunfire

Over 80 percent of gunfire occurring in the City of Chicago is never logged by a 911 dispatcher. A somber reminder of how residents have waved the white flag in the fight against crime, the absence of cooperation from residents created a terrible void ShotSpotter moved in to fill. Today, ShotSpotter is the only means by which CPD can be swiftly and accurately dispatched to the scenes of gunfire.

Mayor Johnson, of course, is familiar with ShotSpotter’s purpose and its range of capabilities, yet when quizzed over his decision to end Chicago’s contract with SoundThinking, instead of assuming the role of mayor and responding as if he were a leader committed to answering the call to arms in the fight against crime, he simply parroted hollow protestations heard from the CORE caucus, anti-police activists, and the defund movement.

Though there is still slender chance ShotSpotter will remain in Chicago, the odds are against it. Another chapter in the grim chronicle of CPD being deprived of tools it needs to respond to emergencies, if ShotSpotter disappears, gunshot wound victims will be denied life-saving intervention and Chicago will become less safe.

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