Are superintendents and school boards flying blind when buying school security technology and products? A leading AI weapons detection company is reportedly facing two federal investigations. But would school leaders even know when questions exist about school security vendors?

Posted by on February 24, 2024

Scrutiny and questions ramp up on school security vendors and the growing “school security industrial complex”

A leading AI weapons detection company is reportedly under a second federal investigation according to multiple reports this week, including IPVM ( and Security System News (

Industry reports and company releases indicate both the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) have opened inquiries with the company, whose products have been widely sold to #schoolleaders looking for new school safety measures.

The company has pushed back by saying that “short sellers” in the investment marketplace and certain media outlets are behind efforts influencing the investigations. The company also produced a web page which they say “corrects misinformation about the company” (

Unrelated to the federal investigations IPVM (, a company that provides independent security product and tech testing along with media coverage of the security industry, challenged public comments made by the CEO of this AI weapons detection company who publicly stated that, “Unless you are carrying a weapon you get to walk right in,” when you use their product. The claim was challenged given students typically must hold Chromebooks over their heads or pass them around the screening devices, which are also known to have false alarms on other common items such as spiral notebooks, waterbottles, musical instruments, etc.

Also this week, the Dallas Morning News ran a story on the growing active shooter defense industry saying, “Some experts question the booming industry and whether any of these straegies are effective at stopping gun violence.” In the story, Professor  Odis Johnson of the Johns Hopkins school safety center, “…said no evidence-based research shows that companies marketed to lower the risk of an active shooter situation actually do.”

Information on the “effectiveness” of school security products often comes from the companies themselves rather than from independent testing and research. The Dallas article noted that, “Most research on school safety tools is self-reported, letting companies focus on the variety of offerings, rather than effectiveness, according to a 2016 report on school safety technology by researchers at Johns Hopkins.” Professor Johnson added that, “‘Market research is there to attract and secure clients…We would not really know about the cases where their work really failed.’”

School leaders don’t know what they don’t know about school security products, tech, and vendors

These examples raise broader questions as to how well-intended superintendents, school boards, and principals know when questions exist about companies selling school security technology, hardware, and products? How can school leaders get past vendor sales pitches to identify not only the positives but also the gaps, limitations, and challenges that vendors often will not volunteer to potential clients.

Some school districts have school security directors skilled in knowing what questions to ask, where to dig up information beyond sales pitches, and how to examine pros and cons in considering these items. But many, if not most, do not have these internal resources. Decisions are often left to educators, business offices, financial departments, and ultimately school boards.

As schools spend millions of dollars on school security equipment, hardware, and ed tech security, many school leaders behind these purchases are flying blind. Most school leaders are not aware of resources such as IPVM and do not follow the broader security markets. Even many school security directors are not entrenched in the ins-and-outs of the physical security industry.

The most diligent of school security officials and school administrators consistently still tell us that even they struggle to cut through the bombardment of vendor sales noise.

What will school boards do when the federal COVID relief money disappears? Will they sustain security products and tech from their own budgets?

School leaders have had the benefit of having temporary pots of COVID pandemic relief federal dollars (ESSER funds) and some one-off state grants to buy security hardware and tech. These purchases have often been made when the heat is on from parents and the media after school gun incidents.

But as this money disappears this year and next year, school leaders are going to be faced with tough decisions on whether they pay for continued equipment leases, AI software and other vendor subscription costs, and routine repair and replacement costs.

My three decades of experience, along with current school financial trends, suggests that school boards will not sustain these ongoing costs out of their already-depleting school district budgets. They will then have to explain to their school-communities why they eliminated the security measures they chose to install in the first place.

Buyer beware: Superintendents and school boards must exercise due diligence — and more!

School leaders need to be better supported with independent, credible information to be educated consumers and make informed strategic school safety decisions. The challenge to do so is complicated when “non-profits” or other organizations appearing to help superintendents, boards, and principals sort through the noise are actually funded and/or driven behind the scenes by security vendors. School leaders and school security officials are left wondering who they can trust.

School leaders need to go beyond vendor sales pitches. Ask vendors what their gaps and limitations are, and if they hesitate to answer or pivot, proceed with caution. Quietly reach out to your counterparts who have used their products to identify the implementation challenges they have faced and difficulties they have had with vendors in the months and years after the sale.

The best advice for school leaders: Buyer beware.

Exercise due diligence. Lean on your internal school security directors, business officials, and legal departments. Tap into independent school security consultants not affiliated with vendors.

Do your homework. Ask questions. Exercise critical thinking.

Failing to do so may increase your school safety risks, potentially increase your liability risks, and most likely risk damage to your credibility with your school community.

Dr. Kenneth S. Trump is President of National School Safety and Security Services  

National School Safety and Security Services

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