Selling Fear: The First US School Installs A Shooting Detection System

from the fear-itself dept

If there is one thing that really irritates me more than anything else, it's when people use fear as a sales tactic. This gives me many opportunities to be pissed off, since fear is commonly used to sell stuff, with varying degrees of depravity: fear to sell warranties, fear to sell wars, fear to sell surveillance on the public, fear to sell political ideology. But using the fear parents have for their children in the wake of tragic school shootings, particularly doing so while outright lying about statistics to scare the hell out of parents even more, just might be the worst of them all. And that brings us to the news that a Massachusetts school has become the first in America to implement a DARPA developed "shooter detection system."

Authorities fired tester blanks Tuesday in the Methuen, Mass. school, which authorities did not name for security reasons, to demonstrate the Guardian Active Shooter Detection System, which alerts police of gunfire within one second, according to Reuters. Police officers and Democratic congresswoman Niki Tsongas attended the demonstration, but students were not present, as schools were closed for Veteran’s Day.

The technology, which boasts “near zero false alerts,” was developed by Massachusetts-based Shooter Detection Systems, in partnership with Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), a U.S. government’s military technology development arm. The company also worked with a major defense contractor that has deployed thousands of similar gunshot detection systems to war zones.
Congratulations, America. A defense contractor tried to sell you on the idea that our schools are war zones and you bit like a musky on a minnow. The manufacturer's website, along with most of the accompanying news articles, are filled with statistics all about how school and mass shootings are on the rise. Obviously this serves as evidence that such shooter detection systems are needed. That way, the $100k per school systems can alert authorities when these increasingly common shootings occur. The most common figure you'll hear from these contractors and in the news is the same one authorities used in buying this detection system: there have been 88 school shootings in America since the Sandy Hook tragedy in 2012. The claim comes from Everytown.org, an organization dedicated to gun control and safety. And if that statistic sounds shocking to you, there's a very good reason for that: it's complete bullshit.

Politifact summarizes this nonsense nicely:
The main reason for the criticism of Everytown’s count is that its definition of "school shooting" is relatively broad. The group’s criteria goes beyond what many people would consider "school shootings" -- incidents in which a student or an intruder enters a school and fires at innocent students and staff. For many people, this is the first thing that comes to mind when they hear the phrase "school shooting" -- an incident such as Sandy Hook or, before it, the 1999 Columbine shooting in Colorado that left 15 dead, including the shooters.

[Everytown.org's] definition allows for incidents that don’t typically call to mind the term "school shooting" -- for example, a case in which a man unaffiliated with Alogna High/Middle School in Iowa killed himself in the school’s parking lot in the middle of the night, or an early-morning armed robbery on a street that goes through the Marquette University campus in Wisconsin. Both count in Everytown’s tally.
They then tally up the incidents using the common sense school shooting criteria: 10 instances of what we'd actually call school shootings, 39 incidents that were common criminal activity (such as robbery, etc.), 16 cases that occurred outside of school hours by people not affiliated in any way with the school, 6 suicides, and 3 accidental discharges. So, 10 school shootings, as we commonly refer to them, over the past two years. Look, that's 10 too many, of course, and every instance of gun-related death at a school is a tragedy in its own right, but that stupid, wrong, idiotic 74 shootings statistic (before it was 88 school shootings) was pitched to concerned parents, school officials, and politicians by both a company that has insane amounts of money to gain and a complicit, sensationalistic and lazy mass media and nobody is bothering to tell people that these are lies. If the company is pitching an increase in school shootings as a primary reason for spending six figures per school on their product, what happens when I show you that school shootings are not on the rise?
We asked James Fox, a criminology professor at Northeastern University, for some perspective. He pointed to the 2013 "Indicators of School Crime and Safety" report compiled by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. There were about 45 school-associated violent deaths (not just by guns) at elementary and secondary schools each year between the 1992 and 2010 school years, according to the report. The highest annual total was 63 deaths in 2006-07, while the lowest was 31 in 2010-11. In other words, Fox said, the number of gun deaths documented by Everytown over the past year and a half are not out of the ordinary. About 15 to 20 kids in grades K-12 are killed at school each year, along with a similar number of college students, he said.

"I don't mean to minimize the horror of these events or the pain and suffering of victims, but schools are safe, safer than other places that our children spend time," he said. "For some kids, school is even safer than their home."
Yet there is the politician, the school officials, and police, marching through a Massachusetts school, firing off blank rounds within the hallways that, if not for Veteran's Day, would otherwise be filled with young boys and girls, all to test a shooter detection system pitched by a corporation with monied interests on false claims and statistics. That's on us all for not demanding better from ourselves, our media, and our politicians. We deserve to be bilked this way for allowing the pitchmen of fear to prey on us so easily and for setting aside our skepticism in favor of the more facile emotion of terror.


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  1. identicon
    Elliot...Just a tech, 25 May 2016 @ 9:12am

    How it works...

    Actually, the chances of a false positive are pretty slim from what I've been told. We had a security walk-thru and this system was mentioned.

    The way it works it by sound & sight. So you need the report from the firearm, plus the muzzle flash.

    I asked, what if someone came in quiet with a suppressor? It would reduce the effective range of the sensor, but you still need to satisfy BOTH conditions to trigger an alert.

    The BANG & the FLASH.

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