NYC launches advanced weapon detection pilot program


BBC World Service | Flickr

Basmalla Attia

A new weapon detection system is being tested in multiple venues throughout New York City as a part of Mayor Eric Adams’ approach to public safety and tackling illegal guns.

Evolv Technology, a security technology firm, created a touchless quick security check experience. This new technology scans and screens people on monitors as they enter a venue, setting off visual alarms when weapons are detected.

These sensors are being used in venues such as Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Citi Field, the Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York City, the Museum of Modern Art, the American Museum of Natural History, Hudson Yards, the NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital and Jacobi Medical Center.

Adams said the new pilot program will detect weapons and guns in a “humane” way.

“We want to make sure we test it properly, and we’re currently in the process of testing it,” he said at a news conference last month. “And we’re going to place it in schools so we could do a better job in identifying weapons.”

Many people feel uncomfortable having to unpack their belongings and get searched by security. Therefore, one can imagine how this can create a prison like environment in schools.

Creating less invasive surveillance methods is necessary for students to feel comfortable and potentially less discriminated against.

Anil Chitkara started Evolv after being personally affected by two traumatizing attacks, one in which he lost a friend in the 9/11 incident and another when he and his family were in proximity to the bombs that went off at the Boston marathon.

“There’s been a lot of investment in technology on aviation security and airport security, but not nearly enough on all those other places where we are,” Chitkara told NY1.

The pilot program for the weapon detection system has started in response to a recent surge in gun violence in New York City.

January of this year, a man walked into Jacobi Medical Center and shot a patient in the arm. In July 2021, another man managed to get into Morris Park Medical Center’s psychiatric emergency triage room with a handgun and a knife.

These events have led to the installation of metal detectors and increase in police presence at many healthcare settings like Jacobi Medical Center.

As good as the new technology sounds, critics say that there is insufficient scientific research to prove the weapon detection system’s effectiveness.

Additionally, technologies that incorporate artificial intelligence and visual venue analytics are usually plagued with racial bias, according to Daniel Schwarz, New York Civil Liberties Union’s privacy and technology strategist.

“It might be a little bit less obvious than metal detectors and people will move through it more quickly,” Schwarz said to the Gotham Gazette. “But the technology is no less invasive,” he said.

Critics also argue there is a lack of transparency from the NYPD regarding the technology’s capabilities. Many fear the invasiveness of the detection system can cause security breaches.

An example of this would be the ability to capture naked pictures of people it scans, according to Albert Fox Cahn, founder and executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project.

Adams is facing similar claims former Mayor Bill de Blasio faced when he wanted to increase police enforcement and metal detectors to combat gun violence, with critics arguing such choices criminalize students of color and wouldn’t solve the root causes of violent attacks.

An investigation from ProPublica and WNYC in 2016 discovered Black and Hispanic high schoolers were three times more likely to go through a metal detector compared to white students.

Nonetheless Adams is advocating for the quick implementation of this technology, especially in public schools, making him look like he is encouraging and defending the NYPD from allegations of avoiding transparency.

The hope, however, is for Adams to address these growing concerns with the technology during the pilot period before widely implementing it.