When David Chipman’s confirmation hearing takes place, potentially later this month, President Joe Biden’s nominee to head up the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives is sure to face a number of questions from Republicans about his years working as a gun control activist for groups like Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Giffords. Yes, Chipman spent 25 years at the ATF, but it’s his post-government work that’s likely to cause him some problems.
As it turns out, however, Chipman should probably expect some questions about another part of his resume; the time he spent working for the private company ShotSpotter in between his stints working for Michael Bloomberg and Gabrielle Giffords.
Chipman was hired by the company as a senior vice president back in 2013, and I’m sure the gig both paid well and looked good on his resume. Now, however, there are a growing number of critics of ShotSpotter technology, as my colleague John Sexton recently pointed out at Hot Air.
If you’re not familiar with ShotSpotter, it’s a system of microphones which record and triangulate the position of gunfire 24/7. The system then sends an alert to police with an exact location where the gunfire was detected. The idea is to allow police to arrive on the scene of a crime in instances where neighbors never call about the shots, perhaps even to capture the shooter before he gets away or save the life of the victim.
There’s also some pushback against ShotSpotter for a variety of reasons. For one thing, because the system is expensive, police don’t deploy it everywhere but place it in the areas where they get the highest number of reports of gunshots. In many cities, like Chicago, those tend to be minority neighborhoods. For some, that creates a sort of big brother vibe with some even worried that ShotSpotter might not be just recording gunshots but might also be listening to conversations.
ShotSpotter doesn’t listen to conversations but even putting aside the more paranoid concerns, some activists point out that having the system results in police rushing into these neighborhoods at all hours of the day and night in a way that leads to minorities having more dangerous encounters with police. The death of Adam Toledo is being considered a prime example of how this can go wrong.
One of the people currently leading the pushback against ShotSpotter is Jonathan Manes, an attorney who specializes in voting rights issues for the MacArthur Justice Center at Northwestern University. Manes recently examined ShotSpotter activity in Chicago and determined that in the vast majority of cases, police are sent out because of reports of gunfire but no charges are filed:
According to Manes, 86% of the time that police respond to the sound of gunshots picked up by the ShotSpotter microphones, no arrests are made. Manes says that not only is the system ineffective at reducing crime, but it likely leads to overpolicing in majority-Black and Hispanic neighborhoods.
The ShotSpotter system is under increasing scrutiny in Chicago, since the officer who shot and killed 12-year old Adam Toledo was responding with others to a ShotSpotter report when they ran across Toledo, who took off running down an alley while carrying a gun that he apparently dropped a split second before he was shot by the officer chasing him.
For many on the Left, there’s an argument to be made that Toledo would be alive today if it weren’t for the ShotSpotter system, and they want to see the city end its contract with David Chimpan’s former employer.
The city’s current three-year ShotSpotter contract is worth $33 million. Bronzeville community activist Joseph Williams said the city should rethink police response and instead use that money to increase funding for anti-violence programs.
“Officers have found nothing. Not guns, no criminals, no anything,” Williams said. “It may be time to think about either some newer technology, or maybe even think about putting the money where it really needs to be, and that’s right within the community, with the people.”
Will Chipman’s tenure at ShotSpotter be enough for Democrats to derail his nomination? I doubt it, but it should be concerning for those on the Left who believe that violence should be treated with non-policing and non-incarceral strategies like violence interrupters. Chipman will talk a good game during his hearing about the need for violence prevention efforts, but his entire career has been based around the idea of fighting crime through more non-violent, possessory gun laws, which leads to more arrests and more prison time for non-violent offenders. For those who want to “reimagine policing” as well as those who care about our Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms, Chipman’s nomination to head up the ATF should be a non-starter.