There have been a couple of shooting incidents on New York City’s subway system already this year including one where ten people were injured. Now, with more mass shootings in Buffalo and Texas making headlines, the Mayor of New York City is trying to think outside of the box to find a solution. One proposal he is currently pitching would involve the installation of gun detectors at the entrances to the subway system, hoping to stop weapons from entering the tunnels in the first place. But that technology comes with a number of challenges, not to mention very steep expenses. And critics are already asking if it would actually work even if it’s possible to put such a system in place. (Associated Press)
In the aftermath of a mass shooting on a New York City subway train, the mayor floated a high-tech idea: deploy scanners that can spot someone carrying a gun into the transit system before they have a chance to use it.
The technology to scan large numbers of people quickly for weapons does exist, and is used now to screen people at places like sports stadiums and theme parks.
But security experts say installing such a system in the city’s sprawling, porous subway system in a way that would make a difference would be difficult, if not impossible.
The technology under discussion here is not a system of metal detectors similar to what you encounter at airports and government buildings. These systems not only detect metal on people but also the shape of the metal and they’re “smart” enough to set off an alert when a gun is spotted. One of the more popular manufacturers of these systems is Evolv Technology in Boston. I’ll include a video demonstration of their products at the bottom so you can check it out for yourself.
As already noted, the challenges to implementing something like this in Gotham’s subway system are beyond daunting. Not the least of these concerns is the cost. The Evolv system is far from cheap and New York’s subway has 472 stations, each with multiple entrances. The total cost may be an impossible barrier for the city to overcome.
Only installing them on a few stations as a deterrent as the Mayor is suggesting doesn’t seem practical either. Adams envisions a system that could “just pop up at a station someplace so people don’t know it’s there.” But if you watch the video at the end of this article you will see that the scanners are far from being subtle. Even if people aren’t familiar with this specific technology, criminals will know that they are walking through some sort of scanner when entering. And then they’ll probably just pick another entrance.
Even if New York could overcome the budgetary and logistical challenges and put these scanners in place, there is yet another hurdle being brought up. The scanner by itself isn’t going to catch any bad guys. You would need a police officer at every subway entrance in the city who would be ready to respond and confront the person identified as possibly carrying a weapon. (The system does produce false positives at times, such as misidentifying a tablet as a weapon.) There simply aren’t enough cops to cover that many checkpoints and still have anyone left to patrol the streets.
While I hate to be the one to bring this up, there is also one more area of concern to address and the Mayor has brought this on himself. The last time Eric Adams was pushing some expensive new technology for the police, it turned out to be from a company that some of the Mayor’s associates were heavily invested in and they profited from his endorsements. And the cops didn’t even want the product to begin with. If New York City is going to go down the gun detector road, they’ll want to carefully look for similar entanglements with the manufacturer before they begin.
I appreciate any effort to come up with inventive solutions to the city’s crime problems, but this one just doesn’t look practical. Now here’s the video I mentioned above. The technology definitely looks cool.