COLUMBUS, Ohio — Columbus City Schools announced plans Friday to spend $3 million on a new weapons detection system in an effort to improve security in the state’s largest district.
CCS says it will enter into a lease agreement to install the Evolv Express weapons detection systems in its high schools. The detectors will be installed over the weekend with plans to go live with the system in the next two weeks, the district said Friday.
The sales pitch behind the Evolv Express weapons detection system is that they can flag threats while cutting down on the wait time of traditional metal detectors.
But a 10 Investigates’ report that aired Thursday night exposed how a test of the Evolv system here in Columbus showed that certain weapons might be missed.
A field study conducted in 2021 at the Columbus Crew’s Lower.com Field found that Evolv Technology’s Express weapons detection system missed 42% of the knives that were tested. While the system was able to successfully detect most handguns, it missed a micro compact handgun on two walkthroughs. Certain metal pipes also had mixed results, all according to a 52-page field test report reviewed by 10 Investigates.
The test was conducted by the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security – or NCS4 - which is based at the University of Southern Mississippi.
Last year, NCS4 published a 25-page report that gave the Evolv’s Express system a score of 2.84 out of 3. But that report did not provide specifics about the weapons detectors’ limitations.
But the larger 52-page report did.
That report was never published until last fall when the BBC and the security and technology outlet IPVM obtained a copy. The 52-page report noted that Evolv’s weapons detection system failed to detect certain weapons.
Evaluators at Lower.com Field recommended “full transparency to potential customers.”
Evolv told 10 Investigates it does not dispute the report’s contents.
On Friday, 10 Investigates asked the Columbus City Schools safety director if he had concerns about installing these detectors given our reporting that revealed the limitations.
Here’s what he said:
“I do not have any major concerns on limitations, because it is a new product for us. We've had the opportunity to have a demonstration at two of our schools before we started this and was able to utilize what we need to do to turn the students from bringing items into the schools,” Chris Baker told reporters. “Our systems are being installed this weekend. And we are looking at going live in our schools in the next couple of weeks.”
Baker said the district is excited about the opportunity to use this technology. The message the district had for families and students:
“We want them to understand that we're continuing to look at the best methods, the best practices that we can do to ensure a school that is safe at all times,” Baker said.
Evolv co-founder Anil Chitkara told 10 Investigates that the company continually works to upgrade its algorithms. The devices rely on sensors and artificial intelligence to help determine weapons.
Chitkara said the devices should be used in tandem with other security protocols and procedures and that “nothing is 100 percent.”
The company has since moved away from its slogan that it helps create “weapons free zones” and now says it helps create “safer zones,” a switch made within the past year according to a company spokeswoman.
Last fall, a New York school district dropped the Evolv Express system following a knife attack. School district officials said the knife was not detected by Evolv’s system.
10 Investigates asked Evolv’s co-founder about the conversations his company has with customers.
Chief Investigative Reporter Bennett Haeberle asked Chitkara: “Are you telling them the things that might be missed?”
Evolv’s Anil Chitkara said: “We have very detailed conversations about what the system can do and what its limitations are. We share reports with them. Everything is not 100 percent in that report. We talk about what the results are and we talk through some of the ways that they want to mitigate those things. We try to be crystal clear with the organizations that are considering our technology.”
CCS says the Evolv system can also be used for sport events and that it has plans to move the traditional metal detectors to other schools within the district.