The Detroit Police Department is introducing new artificial intelligence technology to identify people with firearms, with a plan to place security checkpoints in various outdoor locations this summer.
The city recently purchased 10 weapons detection systems from Evolv, a Boston-based security company that calls itself “the new standard in weapons screening for detecting concealed threats.” Evolv makes a device that resembles metal detector gates like those seen at airports and sports arenas. According to the company’s website, the AI-driven Evolv Express gates use “ultra-low frequency, electromagnetic fields and advanced sensors to detect concealed weapons.”
Detroit’s contract with Evolv costs more than $1.3 million and was approved in a 7-2 vote by City Council in May.
During a panel discussion last week at the Mackinac Policy Conference, Mayor Mike Duggan said police are targeting specific places with the Evolv systems to stop gun violence before it starts, deploying the gates at focal points for shootings during the summer like clubs and late-night block parties.
“People can walk through and flow through,” Duggan said. “When the shape of a gun goes off, an officer will come up and say, do you have your concealed carry permit? If you do, you go on about your business. And if you don’t, you’re going to be arrested.”
According to the Gun Violence Archive, there have been more than 290 shooting incidents in Detroit this year. Duggan says the security checkpoints should send a message to illegal gun owners.
“We don’t want to arrest you. We’re telling you ahead of time it’s going to be there, leave your gun at home,” said Duggan.
Duggan outlined the program at the conference alongside Detroit Police Chief James White, who says the introduction of new technology is part of the department’s overall strategy.
“We’re here. We’re not going backwards,” said White. “We have to be on the cutting edge in order to fight crime.”
DPD is no stranger to surveillance technology. Project Green Light feeds camera footage from businesses to crime analysts in real time. The ShotSpotter system detects the sound of gunfire and provides DPD location data from audio sensors. Their use has drawn criticism from privacy advocates. Detroit City Council delayed a vote on a $9 million expansion and renewal of ShotSpotter on Monday.
White says Detroit’s use of surveillance is changing the pattern of crime.
“We’re seeing an uptick in freeway shootings, they’re being pushed from parking lots and gas stations,” says White. “Technology — it’s pushing behavior. It’s making people make different decisions.”
“Now we need to get in front of that,” he adds.
Update: This story has been revised to say the City Council voted 7-2 to approve the Evolv contract.