Technology could aid police response to school shooters

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Capital News Service 

LANSING –  State safety grants can be used to digitally map schools and enhance video systems   to detect guns.  

The state budget includes $168 million this year for programs to prevent school violence. It also supports existing programs and additional support staff. 

Nearly $13 million is set aside  to digitally map school buildings. 

These maps could help police officers better navigate a school threatened by a shooter, said Robert Stevenson, the executive director of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police. They could be sent to an officer’s cell phone, car computer or a dispatch center. 

“It’s unrealistic to think that an officer is going to be able to memorize a school,” Stevenson  said.  “There aren’t enough officers in any school in any city to assign an officer to every school. It’s just unrealistic expectations.” 

Schools could also use the money to program  existing cameras to detect if someone is carrying a firearm.

ZeroEyes, a Pennsylvania-based company that helps prevent mass shootings, uses artificial intelligence technology to connect cameras to a dispatch system. If a camera detects a pistol, handgun, machine gun or anything that resembles a firearm, an alarm goes off and dispatchers at the operation center verify if it is a gun and call the authorities. 

Oxford High School received $9.8 million to put this system in place after a mass shooting there, just a year ago on Nov. 30, that year killed four students. 

Lansing Catholic High School and Vassar Public Schools have implemented this system as well, said J.T Wilkins, the senior vice president of Sales at ZeroEyes. 

 “Once an alert is created on the platform, within three to five seconds a human on our side is going to verify that alert and send that directly to law enforcement or first responders, ultimately saving time and saving lives,” Wilkins said. 

After  the 1999 school shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, the shooter was spotted on school cameras preparing the attack in a stairwell for up to a minute before it happened, Stevenson said. Had police been notified 45 seconds or a minute before, they could have been on their way to the school and maybe prevented that shooting.

“When you get to a point where a shooter is really moving, time and seconds really matter,” Wilkins said. It’s better to use the school cameras to notify authorities of a threat before it happens rather than using school cameras to analyze an event after it happens. 

The state budget also includes $25 million for schools to have a resource officer as a liaison between students and the police department. 

“After they had been there for a period of time and the kids got to trust them, many kids would come to them and give them tips on stuff which would ultimately be the perfect thing,”  Stevenson said. “Oftentimes we hear that somebody said something to somebody, but they didn’t know who to talk to.” 

Every community is different, but decisions like access to mental health resources or technology used in schools should be made alongside the educators, said Thomas Morgan, a communications consultant for the Michigan Education Association, the state’s largest union of teachers and school personnel. 

An additional $250 million, approved in July will provide  mental health services for students. 

“Even more important is making sure schools have the mental health resources they need so that every child who needs help can get it – before relatively minor issues spiral out of control,” Morgan said.  

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