JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Leaders at Duval County Public Schools (DCPS) are ramping up efforts to keep students and staff safe with the installation of new high-tech detectors designed to flag guns, knives, and bombs.
The detectors, which the manufacturer claims are much more precise than traditional metal detectors, are being installed in every public high school in the county by the end of the school year, with a lease-to-own cost of around $8 million over the next 5 years.
The Evolv machines, which use radar-like technology and artificial intelligence to detect weapons, were approved by the school board in August and are being hailed as a critical addition to the county’s school safety measures.
Charles Jones, a senior student-athlete at Riverside High School, says he feels safer with the new detectors.
“I feel like school should be a safe place and this is what it’s for,” Jones said. “It’s for safety. You can’t really feel wrong about it.”
Riverside was the first school to participate in a pilot program to replace traditional metal detectors with new machines. The Evolv machines are at student entrances on campus.
Administrators have also been trained to use them and alert a school security officer if anything seems alarming.
According to Principal Timothy Feagins, the reaction from students has been positive.
“If anything, they are more excited that we are providing that extra layer of protection for them,” Feagins said.
To demonstrate how the detectors work, the News4JAX I-TEAM tested them out at Riverside High School.
During the I-TEAM test, while out of sight from administrators, the Evolv system was put to the test by a dummy gun hidden in a backpack. DCPS administration approved News4JAX’s request to see the detectors in action and school staff was aware of the test.
The machine detected the weapon with ease, without flagging harmless items like phones and keys.
DCPS Chief of Police Greg Burton believes the detectors are an essential part of the school safety puzzle.
“It also gives the students ability to feel safe on campus,” Burton said. “This machine draws a box around where the item is and then gives us the ability to search quicker, that’s getting students into the classroom quicker.”
Currently, five high schools in Duval County have the new detectors installed, with more being added each week, Chief Burton said. The goal is to have the detectors in all high schools by the end of the school year so they can be in place by the start of the 2023-2024 school year.