Baltimore County schools add gun detection software to 7,000 security cameras

Published 8/23/2023 6:25 p.m. EDT, Updated 8/24/2023 6:01 p.m. EDT

Illustration of man in profile speaking into headset, with security cameras behind him, looking at figure holding automatic rifle.

As part of a comprehensive approach to protect students and staff from gun violence, Baltimore County Public Schools will add a cutting-edge layer of precaution to thousands of security cameras starting in September — software trained to detect guns.

Superintendent Myriam Rogers, formerly Yarbrough, on Wednesday announced the decision and the Board of Education’s approval during a news conference.

The Gun Detect platform, made by Virginia-based Omnilert, plugs into existing indoor and outdoor cameras and searches image frames for people and the objects surrounding them. If the system detects a gun, an alert gets sent to professionals trained to identify guns. Once verified, school officials and police are notified of the threat within seconds.

The 24-hour, 7-days-a-week monitoring system will put the school’s cameras in a “preventive stance versus being just a tool that’s used for turning back time and looking at what happened,” said Mark Franken, Omnilert’s vice president of marketing.

Baltimore County schools have around 7,000 cameras, making this gun detection software installation one of the largest in the country, Franken said.

The platform does not use any facial recognition software and video feeds never leave the campus, Franken said. Gun Detect does not store live footage but rather scans the feeds, Franken said. A recording only gets made if a gun is detected. A spokesperson for county schools confirmed only incident footage will be saved for law enforcement and disciplinary purposes.

Omnilert’s program allows customers to choose who receives the emergency alert, and to pre-program campus alerts — like alarms and locking doors — so people can know there is possibly a gunman, Franken said.

After being filtered through Omnilert’s staffed monitoring center, designated BCPS staff, school resource officers and certain Baltimore County Police personnel will be notified, according to a county schools spokesperson.

The Board of Education approved the $1.4 million, 2-year contract, according to a county schools spokesperson.

County schools spokesperson Gboyinde Onijala said the school system piloted the program at a few schools last spring.

“We learned about various weapons detection programs in our meetings with other safety directors as well as at the National Association of School Resource Officers attended by approximately 65 SROs and BCPS safety team members annually,” she said in an email.

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The county plans for all schools to get the software, but high schools will go first, starting in September, she said.

Baltimore County is not the first in Maryland to try out the program. Charles County Public Schools started using the software earlier this year, and other Maryland school districts are considering the program, Franken said.

Omnilert started in 2004 as an emergency alert management company focused on timely push notifications for severe weather, bomb threats or active shooters. But the company’s mission changed after hiring their head of artificial intelligence, Chad Green. The former contractor had been working on federal government artificial intelligence projects when his cousin’s daughter was killed in the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.

Franken said Green knew of the technology’s potential and eventually quit his job to develop the core of Gun Detect — “He thought there had to be a way.”

This story was updated with the superintendent’s recent name change.