AI will help NYC cops detect guns on the subway

Eric Adams, the Mayor of New York City, says the metropolis will soon test out tech that uses AI to detect guns at subway turnstiles. But Evolv, the firm supplying the scanners, is being targeted by federal investigators.

With a spate of violent incidents on the city’s subway systems adding to the perception that the underground isn’t safe, Adams announced the plan to purchase mobile weapons detectors for the transit system, according to CNBC.

"We'll be publishing the impact and use policy for electromagnetic weapons detection systems here in New York City. This kicks off the 90-day waiting period before this type of technology can be tested and used in our city to help keep New Yorkers safe,” said Adams.

The pilot will start in three months because the POST Act requires the New York City Police Department to disclose the surveillance technologies it uses and publish impact and use statements before they are put into place.

The mayor added that he was seeking bids from tech firms around the world. However, the police have already demonstrated one particular system in which a red box appears on an iPad if there’s a weapon in a specific area. The tool also shows precisely where the gun is.

The weapons detection company making the AI-equipped detector is called Evolv, and its products are used in schools and venues across the United States. But there are a few problems – the accuracy of Evolv’s machines, two government probes, and a class action lawsuit by shareholders.

Evolv claims their scanners use “safe, ultra-low frequency, electromagnetic fields, and advanced sensors to detect concealed weapons.” Allegedly, almost any type of weapon can be detected.

However, Evolv’s scanners have previously flagged umbrellas as guns and failed to spot aluminum and steel tubes cut to look like gun barrels. In 2023, The Intercept also reported that the company’s machines did not detect knives in students’ backpacks and mistakenly identified lunch boxes as bombs.

In 2022, IPVM, the surveillance industry research publication, said that Evolv had paid for testing by the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security and actually edited its report but then called it “fully independent.”

No wonder that in October, the Federal Trade Commission opened an inquiry into whether Evolv’s AI detection system works as advertised. The company itself said in a February filing that the Securities and Exchange Commission had also opened a “non-public, fact-finding inquiry.”

Finally, in March, investors filed a class action lawsuit against Evolv, claiming that the company had misrepresented the efficacy of its scanners and “deceived the general public, customers, and investors.”

New York state and local leaders have been trying to improve safety underground. Officials say transit crime is up 4% so far this year compared to last year and up 8% compared to 14 years ago.