VIDEO: OPS adding ‘free-flowing’ weapons detection system to middle and high schools

March 10, 2023 | 12:12 am

Updated March 10, 2023 | 1:05 am

Owensboro Public Schools is purchasing a weapons detection system to use at the entrance of middle and high schools as well as for indoor and outdoor events across the district. | Photo from demo video by OPENGATE

Owensboro Public Schools is purchasing a weapons detection system to use at the entrance of middle and high schools as well as for indoor and outdoor events across the district. The “free-flowing” screening device allows people to walk through quickly — without taking off backpacks — but can still instantly detect dense metals and weapons. It’s similar to what is used at Holiday World and even NFL games, according to district officials.

(A video of how the system will work can be found at the end of this article.)

Officials said they understand the move looks reactionary after a juvenile was arrested Monday for having a gun on the Owensboro Middle School campus, but said they were already only a few weeks away from making a decision after more than a year of researching the best weapons detection system for the district.

Monday’s incident occurred at approximately 2:20 p.m. OPS Public Information Officer Jared Revlett said Thursday that school was in dismissal at that point, but there were still “a number of students” on campus.

Revlett said that students suspected the juvenile was in possession of a weapon and immediately alerted a teacher, who in turn went directly to the Owensboro Police Department School Resource Officer. Revlett said he estimated it was less than 5 minutes from the time the students learned about the potential weapon to when the SRO found the gun and initiated the arrest.

There are still some unanswered questions about where the weapon was found (such as in a backpack or concealed by clothing), whether the juvenile was inside or outside the building, and if the weapon was at school all day. To all three issues, Revlett said he had to defer to OPD due to the ongoing investigation. OPD has previously declined to comment on those issues.

On Monday night, Revlett said the district was not aware of any threat made toward the school or toward any person. There were some social media comments questioning how there could be no threat if a gun was on campus.

Revlett said Thursday, “There was never anything on social media or anything that said, ‘I’m coming to shoot up the school.’ That’s what was meant by those comments. … To my knowledge, (the weapon) was never brandished.”

The district was already planning to discuss the purchase of a weapons detection system on March 23 during their monthly Board of Education meeting. Monday’s incident simply pushed that timeline up two weeks, so they held that discussion at Thursday’s board luncheon.

John DeLacey is the OPS Director of Transportation, Safety, and Health. He said that district officials involved in the research recommended purchasing the OPENGATE system because it checked all the right boxes. 

It can be set up in minutes. It runs on batteries and is completely wireless, and is therefore portable. It can be used inside or outside. Training only takes about 15 minutes. It doesn’t create long lines like a metal detector. It lets staff still interact with students and observe their behavior rather than watching a screen. And perhaps as important as anything, it comes with an affordable price tag.

DeLacey said as the district began looking into a weapons detection system, they quickly ruled out metal detectors. He said it would create long lines, which both disrupts the flow into the building and creates a “target-rich environment” due to the number of people grouped together. 

The district eventually began looking heavily into rapid screening devices, and ultimately landed on OPENGATE as the best option.

“It’s a free-flowing screening device that allows what I would consider a rapid movement through, but still allows you to detect if there’s any weapons on that person,” DeLacey said. 

DeLacey and other officials had the opportunity to see the system in use at Calloway County schools in February.

“The system was easily operated by the staff, which we thought was very helpful and very efficient,” he said. “It takes far less staff to be able to manage, and you’re not watching the screen, you’re actually watching people. If you’ve been around kids in the building long enough, you know if somebody’s having a good day or a bad day within the first few minutes. So that eye contact as they’re walking through is going to be very important to our logistics of how we process kids and help to get them to school safely.”

DeLacey said up to 1,300 people per hour per unit can go through each gate. He said it’s been used in major collegiate events — such as a Penn State vs. Ohio State football game with more than 100,000 people in attendance.

“We need to be able to have that free flow of kids. You can walk through it with different items like a phone, keys, and similar items. But it will detect weapons and dense metals,” he said. 

DeLacey said the equipment weighs about 25 pounds and is portable. He said it could easily be moved to another location for games, graduations, or other school events.

After seeing the system in action, DeLacy and other district officials recommended purchasing the equipment to Superintendent Dr. Matthew Constant.

Constant was then a part of a focus group involving about 25 students at Owensboro High School. He said the students said they feel safe already, but they discussed the possibility of further steps. Constant said “they all kinda very unanimously said, ‘I think it would be fine, we’d get used to it.’ I think they were good with (a screening system).”

The board approved purchasing 10 units (plus batteries, chargers, test pieces, freight, and training) for a total of $169,313.90 from Communications Technologies. There is no annual cost other than paying the people who monitor the system while it’s in use.

The system works off batteries that will be charged nightly. Each pole has two batteries installed but only needs one, so if the first dies or malfunctions there is a backup to keep it running. The system also comes with a “simulated weapon” to use as a testing device each morning to make sure it’s working.

Five units will be used at OHS, three at OMS, and one each at the Owensboro Innovation campus and Emerson Academy.

DeLacey said each unit can be manned by two people, as was demonstrated at Calloway County. One person can check any bags that get flagged, while one watches the line and monitors student behavior. DeLacey was clear that the district doesn’t want to check every bag, only those that are flagged.

The district will now move forward with the purchase, but officials don’t know how long it will take to receive and implement the system.

During the luncheon, DeLacey briefly noted the many safety measures OPS already has in place — including the SRO program with OPD, various instant alert systems, numerous cameras inside and outside the buildings, window coverings, limited points of entry, and two sets of locked doors at every entry.

“We believe our best approach is a multi-layer, multifaceted approach. We feel like it encompasses everything that is needed,” he said. “Our greatest resource is our students and our staff and the relationships they have with each other. Kids want to be in a safe place, staff want to be in a safe place. Those relationships allow those tough conversations. When something happens, they approach a staff member that they trust. We’re very blessed to have great staff and students that are willing to take that courageous step and act.”

March 10, 2023 | 12:12 am

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