Some cops are honest. Others . . . not so much


If your blood doesn’t boil with anger (at least metaphorically) when you read this report, I suggest there’s something severely out of kilter with your moral sense.

On May 31 last year, 25-year-old Safarain Herring was shot in the head and dropped off at St. Bernard Hospital in Chicago by a man named Michael Williams. He died two days later.

Chicago police eventually arrested the 64-year-old Williams and charged him with murder (Williams maintains that Herring was hit in a drive-by shooting). A key piece of evidence in the case is video surveillance footage showing Williams’ car stopped on the 6300 block of South Stony Island Avenue at 11:46 p.m.—the time and location where police say they know Herring was shot.

How did they know that’s where the shooting happened? Police said ShotSpotter, a surveillance system that uses hidden microphone sensors to detect the sound and location of gunshots, generated an alert for that time and place.

Except that’s not entirely true, according to recent court filings.

That night, 19 ShotSpotter sensors detected a percussive sound at 11:46 p.m. and determined the location to be 5700 South Lake Shore Drive—a mile away from the site where prosecutors say Williams committed the murder, according to a motion filed by Williams’ public defender. The company’s algorithms initially classified the sound as a firework. That weekend had seen widespread protests in Chicago in response to George Floyd’s murder, and some of those protesting lit fireworks.

But after the 11:46 p.m. alert came in, a ShotSpotter analyst manually overrode the algorithms and “reclassified” the sound as a gunshot. Then, months later and after “post-processing,” another ShotSpotter analyst changed the alert’s coordinates to a location on South Stony Island Drive near where Williams’ car was seen on camera.

“Through this human-involved method, the ShotSpotter output in this case was dramatically transformed from data that did not support criminal charges of any kind to data that now forms the centerpiece of the prosecution’s murder case against Mr. Williams,” the public defender wrote in the motion.

The document is what’s known as a Frye motion—a request for a judge to examine and rule on whether a particular forensic method is scientifically valid enough to be entered as evidence. Rather than defend ShotSpotter’s technology and its employees’ actions in a Frye hearing, the prosecutors withdrew all ShotSpotter evidence against Williams.

The case isn’t an anomaly, and the pattern it represents could have huge ramifications for ShotSpotter in Chicago, where the technology generates an average of 21,000 alerts each year. The technology is also currently in use in more than 100 cities.

Motherboard’s review of court documents from the Williams case and other trials in Chicago and New York State, including testimony from ShotSpotter’s favored expert witness, suggests that the company’s analysts frequently modify alerts at the request of police departments—some of which appear to be grasping for evidence that supports their narrative of events.

There’s more at the link.

Chicago police and prosecutors clearly haven’t learned much since the Homan Square scandal blew up in their faces.  Trouble is, this doesn’t involve just the Chicago police.  It’s happening in other cities as well, and in other individual cases, as the report makes clear.

I know (and trust) a number of policemen.  I confidently expect them to do the upright, honest, ethical thing when they investigate a crime, and I can’t conceive of them “cutting corners” and ignoring the law in order to “solve” a crime and get it off their books.  Unfortunately, there are clearly a great many others who aren’t of similar mind.  They’ll do whatever it takes to get a conviction, even framing an innocent man, in order to “look good” to their superiors and get a case off their books as “solved”, when in fact it’s nothing of the sort.

I want to know what happens to the police and prosecutors who asked ShotSpotter to falsify evidence in this case.  I want to see them criminally charged and convicted of subornation of perjury,  malfeasance in office, misprision of felony (by those who covered up for the guilty parties), felony under color of law, and a host of other offenses.  If that doesn’t happen, it’ll be a double disgrace.

Sadly, I suspect that’s not likely to happen, because too many cops protect their own even when they know they’re guilty as sin.  That’s the negative side of “behind the badge”.



  1. Isn’t it odd how Black Lives Matter and similar movements so often concentrate on police actions that are, on examination, justifiable rather than focus on real issues. It’s almost as if they were intended to be a distraction……

  2. It's also not going to happen because absolute prosecutorial immunity is exactly what it says on the tin. We have deep and enshrined problems in our legal system. Race is, as you said, a distraction.

    What good is it for all people to be equal if the standard they are equal in isn't free?

  3. These *ssholes will not like it when they force the application of the common-law solution to such claims of immunity.
    The bad thing about such a result is that it is unlikely to be narrowly focused.
    Oh well. You bought the ticket, enjoy the ride.
    John in Indy

  4. Not the first time, won't be the last. Those systems are FAR from perfect, nobody wants to admit it, much less be held liable (if only)…

  5. IIRC, the first city that had that system installed, later had it tossed due to being useless, and a huge money and manpower hog. It was started here in the SF Bay Area, and if they found it worthless, that should say something!

  6. This reminds me of the problems with speed and red light cameras that led to them being shut down many places.

  7. Justice Thomas has been pushing hard to revisit the concept of "qualified immunity" at the SCOTUS level.

    Another thing to remember regarding police investigations is that police, like anyone, can develop a blind spot when investigating a case. If they are sure they have their perpetrator they will ignore evidence to the contrary and promote marginal facts that might support their cases. It is a human failing, not necessarily corruption.

    Worth a read as it explains exactly why talking to the police is precisely the wrong thing to do if they arrest you or bring you in for questioning on some matter: You Have the Right to Remain Innocent

  8. @BP "What good is it for all people to be equal if the standard they are equal in isn't free?"

    Just wait until they change the standard to equally dead. It's not like certain members of the elite haven't been advocating for a good depopulating for quite a while now.

  9. Isn't it interesting that *'s ATF nominee, David Chipman, was Shotspotter's VP of US Public Safety Solutions (or similar title)…

  10. As Heresolong mentioned, Confirmation Bias is a HUGE problem with police officers and detectives. This is a phenomenon that has been well documented by people who themselves were retired police detectives with decades long careers. In a nutshell, if 95% of the evidence says the suspect did not do it, and 5% of the evidence suggests that he did, the detectives will go "AHAH!", and focus and expand on that 5% to make the case and completely ignore the 95% that says it could not have been him.

    Television shows lead people to believe that police detectives are dogged pursuers of justice, who are dedicated crime solvers in the vein of Sherlock Holmes. This is a far cry from the truth. In reality, for the most part, police do not solve crimes, they CLOSE CASES. And they will close a case in the quickest and most convenient way available to them, without being unduly concerned as to whether or not they have actually solved the crime, or whether or not they have caused an innocent person and their family to be caught up in the criminal justice system for the rest of their lives.

    They are for the most part unconcerned about how many innocent lives are destroyed in the process. Their job, as they see it, is to CLOSE CASES, and go on to the next one. That is what they get paid to do. Due to confirmation bias, in their minds, they always charge the right person.

    As we have seen over the years, even in cases where the convicted person is exonorated and released because new and absolutely irrefutable evidence eventually comes to light, the prosecutors on the case will NEVER ADMIT that they got it wrong. Partly because it would expose them to massive civil and possibly even criminal liability, but also due to sheer arrogance on their part.

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