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NYC will be testing AI gun detectors on the subway

New York City is set to launch a trial of technology utilizing artificial intelligence (AI) to detect guns at subway turnstiles, announced Mayor Eric Adams on Thursday. This initiative follows a recent incident at a Brooklyn subway station where a man was shot with his own firearm during an altercation.

The city has teamed up with Evolv, a company based in Massachusetts known for its weapons detection technology used in schools and various venues nationwide. However, Evolv has faced criticism regarding the accuracy of its machines, along with two government investigations and a class action lawsuit from shareholders.

The pilot program, scheduled to commence in 90 days, aligns with the POST Act, mandating the New York City Police Department to disclose surveillance technologies used and provide impact and use statements before implementing new technologies. During this waiting period, the city will also assess other potential vendors. Mayor Adams emphasized the city's openness to testing various technologies, stating, "This city has a technology mayor. Bring us your technologies. Let us test it."

Details about the installation locations and the number of scanners to be deployed were not disclosed by Mayor Adams. Evolv scanners are currently in use at locations such as Citi Field, Lincoln Center, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Mayor Adams had previously installed an Evolv scanner outside City Hall in 2022 following a shooting incident on a subway car in Brooklyn. Similarly, in the same year, a pilot of Evolv scanners was conducted at a Bronx hospital after a shooting incident in the emergency room waiting area. Several school districts nationwide have also adopted Evolv scanners to prevent campus shootings.

Evolv's scanners resemble metal detectors but incorporate AI technology. The company claims its scanners utilize safe electromagnetic fields and advanced sensors to detect concealed weapons, boasting the capability to detect various types of weapons. However, reports suggest shortcomings in the technology's functionality, including instances where umbrellas were flagged as guns while aluminum and steel tubes resembling gun barrels went undetected.

Despite criticisms, Evolv remains the preferred vendor for Mayor Adams, with some of his major donors having significant investments in the company. The decision has drawn scrutiny, especially from organizations like the Legal Aid Society, which raised concerns about the reliability of gun detection systems and the public's consent in participating in surveillance experiments.

Mayor Adams acknowledged that subway-related violent crimes, including gun-related incidents, are relatively uncommon. Although overall crime rates have decreased city-wide, there is a growing perception of insecurity among New Yorkers. Mayor Adams stressed the importance of ensuring public safety, stating, "Stats don't matter if people don't believe they're in a safe environment."

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