An AI-enhanced metal detector technology will soon be rolled out at STEM School Highlands Ranch in a school security pilot program, funded by a grant from Douglas County.
On Jan. 24, Douglas …
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On Jan. 24, Douglas County Commissioners approved a $961,504 grant to STEM to support the implementation of smart-tech scanners from Evolv and a security personnel contract with Johnson Controls to run the system.
In the 2-1 vote, Commissioner Lora Thomas voted against granting the funding because of concerns about the effectiveness of the technology.
Evolv’s detectors use machine learning and sensors to distinguish weapons from other metal items, like keys or a cellphone, when people walk through the scanners. The technology allows users to avoid separate scanners for bags and backpacks while simply walking through the machine.
According to Evolv’s website, the technology has been deployed in hundreds of locations, including schools, stadiums, entertainment venues and government facilities.
However, Thomas cited reporting from the American Civil Liberties Union that found Evolv exaggerates its effectiveness and doesn’t always spot common weapons. Thomas said she believes there are better ways to address school safety.
“I have grave concerns about this project,” she said. “There are personnel that will be involved with this innovation, and they told me that those personnel would be more effective — if they’re going to be funded — to be deployed throughout the school instead of that just one point.”
STEM’s board chair Kelly Reyna told Colorado Community Media that the school is aware the technology isn’t perfect, but said they believe it could be an innovative way to keep the school safer.
Reyna said STEM plans to soft launch the entryway scanners at the entrance to the athletic building around spring break, so the school can troubleshoot before the scanners are installed at all three of the schools’ entrance.
“I don’t think that it’s perfect, but I think there’s definitely some room for improvement,” she said. “We’re equipped to take on the experiment, if you will. It’s not necessarily that we know it’s the best fit, we’re going to figure out if it could be.”
Reyna said Commissioner Abe Laydon pitched the smart-tech detectors to the STEM board in November 2021 and they have been looking into it since. Officials from STEM and Douglas County visited the Denver Center for Performing Arts, which uses Evolv detectors, last year to see how the technology works.
Reyna also spoke with people in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District in North Carolina, that implemented Evolv detectors in early 2022, about their experience. A Vice report on the Evolv scanners in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools found there was difficulty with scanners setting off when laptops and metal-ringed binders were detected.
“They pointed me to some of the things the schools were working through with the challenges they were having and honestly, I sat there and thought ‘heck, I think we can do this better and I think we can innovate differently,'" she said.
During the Jan. 24 meeting, Laydon called Evolv the “most vetted physical school security concept that this county has undertaken.”
“This particular innovation … it’s at Disney World, it’s at the Denver Center for Performing Arts, it’s at Coors Field, it’s used at the Super Bowl, it’s used at the Academy Awards and if it’s good enough to protect kids and adults in the private sector, it’s good enough for our kids in our county,” Laydon said.
While the technology will only be at STEM for now, Reyna said the ultimate goal is to find ways to make the scanners successful across the Douglas County School District.
STEM has created the Evolv Implementation Committee to oversee the pilot program and engage students, staff and the community about their experiences with the system.
“Our main goal, really, is to see if it’s viable on a scaleable level,” she said.
Douglas County school board member Mike Peterson said the school district isn’t currently interested in the Evolv technology because of a lack of funding and having other security priorities, like improving law enforcement communications capability across the district.
He added that the district supports STEM’s pilot program and will be receptive to what the school learns.
“As one of our district charter schools, we would look at the pros and cons and any assessments in the future … and consider if it would be appropriate for additional schools, but frankly we just don’t know that at this time,” Peterson said.
Reporter Haley Lena contributed to this story.
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