Johnston County looking at weapons detection system for school safety

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RALEIGH — A request for proposal by Johnston County Public Schools System may signal the district might be considering use of a weapons detection system to enhance school safety.  

The request for proposal (RFP), dated Oct. 4, is seeking quotes for “Weapons Detection System” for eight high schools and 13 middle schools. 

“Johnston County Public Schools is requesting quotes to outfit our 8 High Schools with 26 free flowing weapons detection systems with accompanying tablets, as well as our 13 Middle Schools with 26 free flowing weapons detection systems with accompanying tablets,” the RFP reads. “Contractor providing proposals shall be a current free flowing weapons detection system with tablet authorized dealer and should provide proof of this certification along with the proposal.” 

The RFP also says the “Contractor must be able to maintain two manufacturer certified personnel on staff” and “Site visits to each school are mandatory to ensure the contractor has made any necessary provisions to complete this scope of work.” 

Richard Carr, an official with the Johnston County Public Schools’ communications department, told North State Journal via that the RFP “was discussed during a previous committee meeting and was simply presented to the Board for approval to pursue RFPs, which was granted.” 

Carr also said that once RFPs are submitted, they will be presented to the Board for consideration at a later date, which has yet to be determined.  

“There is not an established budget for this project. From my understanding, it could be a one-time allocation of funds, or a multi-year plan as funding allows. However, this will be determined at a later date as well,” Carr said in an email response to North State Journal. 

While Johnston County Schools is looking at weapons detection systems, Gaggle, a school safety monitoring app, has rolled out a new AI gun detection tool for K-12 schools.  

According to a post on Gaggle’s website about the tool, the company had identified 195 “disturbing images” over a five week period this past summer. 

“One very disturbing video starts with a teenage boy on the ground with his hands tied. The camera briefly shows a hand with a gun held over the student. The student is then kicked repeatedly by other teens and told not to snitch on people anymore,” according to the post. 

Per Gaggle’s press release, the AI gun detection system is “powered by the latest AI image recognition software available today, as well as Gaggle’s proprietary technology, the new gun detection feature is designed to explicitly search for and detect gun images, ammunition, magazines, and other gun or weapon-related paraphernalia on K-12 school-issued devices and online collaboration platforms.” 

“No other company or service is offering a gun imagery detection tool for K-12 schools,” Jeff Patterson, chief executive officer of Gaggle, said in a press release. “This will be a game-changer for school districts as it will allow them to immediately identify students who are posting or sharing gun or weapon-related images on school-issued devices and platforms and to quickly intervene to stop any potential acts of self-harm or violence to others.” 

Gaggle indicates their app saw a 152% increase in “serious incidents involving violence” during the 2021-2022 academic year over the prior school year. 

When asked for details of the AI gun detection system and if any North Carolina statistics were available Melissa Penn, on behalf of Gaggle’s public relations arm, told North State Journal “We cannot disclose or share any further information about the photos that were found.” 

Penn referred North State Journal back to the press release related to the AI gun detection model. 

Upwards of 5.8 million students at over 1,500 school districts across the United States have used Gaggle’s app, according to the company’s website.  

Of North Carolina’s 115 districts, 67 had utilized Gaggle during the last school year. According to Gaggle, 23,000 student safety incidents were flagged for district officials and four in 10 of the incidents reported were for self-harm or suicide, and “113 student lives were saved.” 

Wake County Public Schools was one of the state’s districts using the app during 2021-22 but ended their pilot run of the program in June of this year. The main reason given by the district for ending use of Gaggle was that “implementing the software took away from classroom time and required additional staff to monitor the software outside of school hours.” 

Violence in K-12 school, including incidents involving firearms, has increased since the pandemic 

According to data published by the Center for Homeland Defense and Security’s K-12 School Shooting Database, saw a big spike in incidents following the pandemic. 

The information that supports the database pulls from “publicly available data” and has a wide definition of gun violence that includes “each and every instance a gun is brandished, is fired, or a bullet hits school property for any reason, regardless of the number of victims, time of day, or day of week.”  

In other words, the database includes incidents that may not have anything to do with a student or K-12 campus, such as drive-by shootings or police activity in the area related to criminal activity. 

Graphs of the data by calendar year show 240 such incidents not involving an active shooter reported and nine active shooter incidents recorded during 2021. 

There were 115 incidents for the calendar year 2021, yet only four in 2020 reports were logged for North Carolina according to the database. 

In comparison, during 2019, there were 112 non-active shooter and seven active-shooter incidents logged. Of those 112, only three were attributed to North Carolina. 

2020’s numbers were much lower as most schools were closed to in-person instruction for extended parts of the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years, but still recorded nine active shooter and 113 non-active shooter events. 

A closer look at the data this far for 2022 shows 155 incidents with only two marked as active shooter-related. Of those 155, only 2 originated in North Carolina; one at Oakdale Elementary School in Charlotte and one at Speight Middle School in Stantonsburg. 

The Charlotte incident involved illegal activity in the parking lot of the school and a 16-year-old was shot by an 18-year-old. In Stantonsburg, the incident involved a stray bullet hitting the window of a school bus after dismissal. 

Additional graph representations of the data show that post-pandemic reported active shooter incidents differ in root cause from the pre-pandemic years. The majority of post-pandemic incidents revolve around disputes between students that escalated into a gunfire incident instead of some type of planned attack. 

About A.P. Dillon 791 Articles
A.P. Dillon is a North State Journal reporter located near Raleigh, North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_