Exposed emails show a leading AI weapons detection system missed its own test gun “a few times with the cameras rolling” during a media demo in a school district that signed $11 million contract for their systems. But the local news report did not show it missing a gun. Are parents being left in the dark?

Posted by on April 8, 2024

Emails exposed by IPVM, the world’s leading authority on physical security technology, shows AI weapons detection systems missed their own test gun “a few times with the cameras rolling” in a media demo for a Virginia school district that reportedly signed an $11 million contract for the units. And the school district’s communications director wanted to make sure it did not happen again in front of other reporters.

The head of education for the vendor, who was present at the media demo, questioned in the email whether the systems’ sensitivity settings were set “at the level we expected.” In another email, the school district’s communications director said another media story was possible and wanted to know what needed to be done “to ensure this does not occur again.”

Questions of weapons detection system efficacy and fidelity of implementation

The obvious questions from these emails zero in on the technology’s effectiveness and the role of how its setting levels could potentially lead to missed weapons. Why did the system miss its own test gun — multiple times? If school officials fail to set the sensitivity levels at a specific level, will weapons be missed? What type of weapons?

Will lower sensitivity levels be used for more rapid movement of students through for the sake of convenience but at the risk of lower school security? Will security capabilities be lower than what parents, students, and school staff expect based upon how school leaders introduce the technology and its stated or implied capabilities?

Is this worth the costs? What is the efficacy and fidelity of implementation? Or is it security theater?

Questions of school leader transparency and credibility on school safety

But the bigger questions to me are around transparency about school security with parents and the broader school community. The news reports on the demo reportedly never showed the weapons detection systems’ multiple misses of the demo gun. And the school public relations leader wanted to make sure the misses did not occur again if other media outlet did a story.

I’ve said that parents don’t know what they don’t know about school safety and in many cases no one is rushing to tell them. The emails discovered by IPVM point to questions around a lack of transparency that could lead to the loss of credibility by not only those selling the products, but more so those school leaders buying them.

Are school leaders overpromising on school security when they tout new weapons detection systems? If so, at what costs to school safety, student and parent confidence, and their own credibility are they doing so?

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

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