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Philadelphia Ended Gun-Detection System Before Bus Shootings

On March 6, eight Philadelphia high school students were shot while waiting to catch a city bus. The school of 3,450 students was so shaken that it instituted full virtual learning for the next two days. As overall shootings in Philadelphia have declined, violence on its transit system has not. The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) is grappling with the most shocking gun violence in recent memory — 15 people shot, two fatally, over four days in March, The Trace reports. In her first budget address on March 14, Mayor Cherelle Parker said, "The shootings last week — over four days, all on or near SEPTA buses — left our city shaken.”

Amid a year with record violence, SEPTA tried, and then aborted, a new tactic aimed at bringing peace. In December, officials ended a contract with ZeroEyes, a company that manages an early AI-based gun-detection video analytics platform. The agency had not spent any of the $5 million state grant it received to implement the technology. The shuttering came as cities nationwide reassess their relationships with companies that try to detect firearms. In Chicago, Mayor Brandon Johnson announced the final extension of a contract with SoundThinking, the company that makes the acoustic gunshot-detection tool ShotSpotter, before the city phases out the technology. In many cities, questions around such tools revolve in part around their ethics — including questions about whether they lead to more police pat-downs in certain neighborhoods — but, in Philadelphia, most agree that the issue was its effectiveness. SEPTA and ZeroEyes officials agreed that SEPTA’s mostly analog cameras were incompatible with the company’s software, which is designed to work with modern digital cameras.


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