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Baltimore City to pilot AI-based weapon detectors at 4 high schools

Demonstration of Evolv Express detectors at a random school
Demonstration of Evolv Express detectors at a random school
Demonstration of Evolv Express detectors at a random school
Demonstration of Evolv Express detectors at a random school
Posted at 5:07 PM, Dec 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-16 07:52:22-05

BALTIMORE — Metal detectors became mandatory last year for all Baltimore City public high schools, and now the school system is piloting a program of detectors that promise to be easier and less intrusive to use.

The Board of School Commissioners voted this week to approve the use of Evolv Express metal detectors in four high schools this spring, which will cost about $229,000. They will be installed in Mervo (Mergenthaler) Vocational-Technical High School, Carver Vocational-Technical High School, Patterson High School, and Excel Academy at Francis M. Wood High School.

BCPS Chief of Schools John L. Davis, Jr., said:

"You see these metal detectors in many different places in our community. You see them at stadiums, you see them at courthouses. So they're things that people are normally used to. But we're going to have to make sure we adapt it to all students, regardless of their needs, regardless of their situation."

Evolv Express detectors are currently in more than 26 districts nationwide, said the company. The system screens an average of 1 million people daily and uses a combination of artificial intelligence and advanced sensors to distinguish threats from personal items.

Demonstration of Evolv Express detectors at a random school
Demonstration of Evolv Express detectors at a random school

A company spokesperson noted: "Unlike metal detectors, our system uses advanced sensor technology and artificial intelligence to distinguish personal items from weapons. To be clear, Evolv systems do not use facial recognition. They're designed to detect and pinpoint weapons; the tech doesn’t focus on the human."

He explained that these detectors are much wider than other metal detectors, with no overhead element, so even two students can go through very easily.

"We really want our students to be able to walk into school like they would normally walk into school. Sure, they might have to take out their computer, if that's the case, but we're kind of used to doing that in society nowadays," he said, adding that BCPS wants to talk to students about their experiences and see how the detectors work before potentially taking them district-wide.

Demonstration of Evolv Express detectors at a random school
Demonstration of Evolv Express detectors at a random school
Demonstration of Evolv Express detectors at a random school
Demonstration of Evolv Express detectors at a random school

"Our schools are always very intentional with the community they want to build, with the culture and climate that they want to establish, so all of our safety aspects always begin inside a school with the community that's there. The new system that we put in front of the board is really an advanced metal detector, and it is a very easy metal detector where students just walk through, and visitors," he said.

The four schools were chosen based on geography, being spread out across the city, and also because they're among the biggest high schools, said Davis.

The idea of partnering with Evolv Express "really came about because we really used our metal detectors more and we made them mandatory in our high schools last year. But, to be quite honest, just going through that box was really something that took a lot of time, and, in the end, a more advanced system will be easier for students - hopefully not very intrusive at all."

He noted:

"We want it to be as easy as possible, we want students to get into class very quickly. Yes, throughout the nation, there has been an uptick in gun violence, but really it's about getting kids to class on time, it's really about having a great system, and in the end, we're going to pilot these at the four schools."

Davis also addressed concerns about the system, and added that "really, safety begins inside the school. It begins with the community that you build, it begins with students, with teachers, with the relationships that are there, but in the end, we want to take every single precaution that we can."

"We know that students with different disabilities will have to go through the system in different ways. We will make those adaptations like we always do inside our schools, but that's also why we're trying it at four schools and implementing it in the spring to really figure out what the kinks are and figure out if it works long-term. If it doesn't work long-term for us, then we'll have to make that decision."