A rendering shows Evolv's detectors. Image courtesy of Evolv.

A student group is urging the Baltimore City Public School system not to move forward with a contract that would add a new high-tech security system to at least four city schools.

Called Evolv, the system would add wireless devices that use artificial intelligence technology to detect weapons at school entrances. Administrators say the devices are needed to keep students safe.

Andre Riley, a spokesman for the school system, said there are no plans to stop the pilot program, which will run through the end of the school year.

“Right now, we are moving forward with our pilot program to install Evolv at four schools this spring,” Riley said. “We’re installing it to learn more about how the system works, or any similar system could work in our buildings, as well as to get feedback from the school communities.”

Authorities have already confiscated several handguns inside city schools this academic year. In the first week of the school year, a Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High School student was shot and killed on its Northeast Baltimore campus.

Another Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High School student was shot Wednesday after school hours at Walter P. Carter Elementary/Middle School. She is in critical but stable condition, The Baltimore Sun reported.

Last year in response to similar violent incidents, the school system added metal detectors to some high schools causing bottlenecks at the start of the school day. The new technology is intended to add security without the long lines.

Evolv says its system is 10 times faster than traditional metal detectors. The company’s existing clients include a major Las Vegas casino and Six Flags theme parks.

“This will bring us up to the current state of the art. It will give us some flexibility to get kids in and out faster,” Riley said. “Right now we screen one at a time. We can potentially screen multiple students at a time and do it effectively.” 

However, the Baltimore Student Union says the procurement process was rushed and did not include needed input from students, teachers and parents.

“What we must do now is continue to educate the public about the dangers of this new system and organize those around us against it to try and push the School Board to retract this dangerous contract,” the group said.

But most importantly, the student union says the system doesn’t effectively detect weapons, citing a number of articles from national news outlets.

“A cursory google search also reveals that Evolv is upfront with customers — its spokespeople are on the record stating that its equipment finds it difficult to distinguish computers in particular from guns,” the Baltimore Student Union said.

The union also filed Maryland Public Information Act requests obtaining documents that showed the system did limited research before settling on Evolv.

However, Riley said that the school district is doing its research with the pilot program, seeing how the devices perform in real time.

“This is where you conduct a pilot to determine if something actually works the way you want it to work,” Riley said.  “However, in our preliminary review of the hardware and the software, we believe that it should produce the results that we need, but we need to prove the concept.”

The pilot program will add the devices to Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High School, Patterson High School, Excel Academy at Francis M. Wood High School and Carver Vocational-Technical High School. 

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the security technology being piloted in some Baltimore City schools uses facial recognition. We apologize for this error.

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Tim Swift

Tim Swift is a local freelance writer and the former features editor for the Baltimore Sun.

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