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New tech could help identify potential shooting threats

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission report exposed many missed opportunities to flag accused gunman Nikolas Cruz as a potential threat. 

Now, private companies are developing tools that could help law enforcement and schools identify threats before they happen. Two companies showed off their tech to state house members Wednesday.

"We have uncovered and reported more than 200 different threats," said Douglas Licker with Lumina Analytics.

Lumina Analytics offers a product called Radiance, which lets police scan the web for public information on people and identify potentially threatening behaviors. "A manual web search to the same magnitude would take someone over a year to complete," said Jessica Dareneau with Lumina Analytics.

The other company, Psynetix Laboratories, has a program called SIREN. It focuses on education, providing a template for interviewing students who have already been reported as possible threats. It then creates the student a profile that is scored against known mass killers.

"We've identified 13,089 potential behaviors," said Dr. Russell Baker with Psynetix Laboratories.

Baker said flagging potential threats using machine learning has a 97-percent accuracy rate, compared to 39 percent using traditional pen and paper methods.

However, Florida State University law professor Wayne Logan cautioned lawmakers of the potential Orwellian consequences of the new technology. "We're predicating our interventions with respect to people on what they might do, not what they've done," Logan said.

Recently the Florida Legislature passed a law specifying how police can use drones. In 2020, similar legislation may attempt to regulate these new technologies as well.

"We want law enforcement to have clear predictability about how to use these tools in an investigation and simultaneously we want individuals to know due process and individual liberties are going to be preserved. If we'll give both of those entities clarity, we've done our job," said State Rep. James Grant.

It's a heavy burden, as the legislative process tends to move much slower than technology.