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Conshohocken-Based ZeroEyes Watches Out for Guns in Schools

No parent can completely dismiss the possibility of their child’s school being the scene of a shooting incident. The tragic school shooting in Uvalde, Texas still reverberates.

Various theories have been espoused on how to curtail mass shootings. Sam Alaimo has put his theories into practice.

Alaimo is the founder and chief financial officer of ZeroEyes, a Conshohocken-based security firm that has developed technology designed to detect the presence of a gun, minimize the risk of a mass shooting and keep children safe using AI (artificial intelligence). The company is the only creator of the only A.I.-based gun detection video analytics platform that holds the U.S. Department of Homeland Security SAFETY Act Designation.

Alaimo, a former Navy SEAL, helped launch the company in 2018 as an effort to protect children and their teachers.

Sam Alaimo

“I met our CEO, Mike Lahiff, on a SEAL team over a decade ago,” Alaimo recalls. “He was at his daughter’s school in 2018 after the Parkland shooting and he noticed all the physical security cameras there that were not proactive. They just sat there and did nothing.”

Alaimo, Lahiff, and their colleagues spent two years developing a system that would detect guns more efficiently than existing technology while still being cost-effective. The process included a rigorous testing protocol.

“We brought in cameras,” Alaimo said. “We used different angles different lighting conditions, different guns, different hand sizes, every different variable we could think of. That ended up being the unique difference between us and the other companies.”

That is one element of the ZeroEyes system. Then there is the human element; a team of observers who monitor and analyze the information provided by the system of cameras.

To protect clients’ privacy and the disclosure of confidential information, the analysts do not watch live video streams.

“The analyst is looking at a blank screen,” Alaimo said. ”The only time an image is seen on that screen is when a gun has been identified as either a true analysis or a false positive.”

That observers have backgrounds in the military or as first responders, and their professional knowledge is essential for the ZeroEyes system to operate at maximum efficiency.

“Our goal,” Alaimo says, “and what makes the software unique, is that when a gun is exposed in front of a security camera, within three to five seconds that alert will be sent to the first responders or the client. It goes from the camera to our ZeroEyes operating center in Conshohocken to the client.

“To be that quick, we need people who are very comfortable identifying guns and very calm under pressure.”

Alaimo and his team envisioned their system as something that would be used primarily in schools. But by the time it was officially unveiled in 2020, many schools had resorted to virtual education in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We had a lot of initial interest,” Alaimo recalls. “Then COVID-19 happened.”

To keep the company afloat, the system was marketed to governmental and commercial entities as well as educational institutions.

Today, Alaimo says ZeroEyes technology has been introduced in 25 states, with clients from the education sector in 19 of them. And the company’s reach is expanding.

“By the end of the year we should be in well over 40 (states),” he says.

In the wake of school shootings of recent years, Alaimo says the company is receiving an increasing number of inquiries.

“The interest has grown exponentially,” he said. “It seems that the COVID-19 issue, the lockdowns, the mental health (issues), resulting from that is causing an increase in shootings. I’m not sure what the cause is but the timeline is the last two years is getting much worse.”

And the company recently announced a partnership with robotics company Asylon to expand into drones. It will integrate ZeroEyes’ human-verified A.I. gun detection software with Asylon’s aerial drone and robot dog video feeds, providing end users with an autonomous response capability in active shooter situations.

“Our grandparents and parents had nuclear attack drills from foreign threats, and we adults had fire drills growing up. Our children today have active shooter drills–things aren’t heading in the right direction,” said Mike Lahiff, CEO of ZeroEyes. “Enabling our A.I. gun detection technology for use beyond static video cameras is a huge step in combating the mass shooting epidemic that our country faces. Our partnership with Asylon Robotics means we’re able to outfit unmanned vehicles with real-time gun detection intel and tools such as lights and audible alarms to distract shooters, giving first responders time to respond to threats more quickly and safely from the air or on the ground, when every second counts.”

Alaimo emphasizes he and his company are not taking a position on the thorny issue of gun control.

“We created a solution for right now,” he said. “That solution is to detect guns and stop the next mass shooting.”


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MASTRIANO: We Can Secure Our Schools Without Trading Away Constitutional Rights

To no one’s surprise, the horrific school shooting in Uvalde, Texas is being exploited to pressure Americans into accepting a false choice: their rights or their safety. Don’t be fooled.

It’s much easier to confront inanimate objects than human flaws, which is why many lawmakers are quick to demonize guns. But that doesn’t solve the problem. The investigation into this crime is ongoing, but we already know that standard life-saving protocols were not followed.

As elected leaders, we can’t allow the focus to shift from the evil actions of individuals to inanimate objects. In Pennsylvania, lawmakers have worked together to provide schools with critical tools to identify potential threats and safeguard classrooms.

The General Assembly established the School Safety and Security Grant Program, which enabled schools to hire police officers, resource officers and counselors. It empowered schools to implement safety plans and violence prevention initiatives, and purchase equipment to boost student safety.

In 2019, the General Assembly created The Safe2Say Program, an anonymous school threat reporting system, to help prepare schools and law enforcement for potential violent incidents. This system has generated more than 86,700 tips since its inception, not only for school safety concerns, but also for student safety issues like bullying and self-harm.

Also in 2019, the General Assembly established Threat Assessment Teams to ensure students who could potentially pose a safety risk receive necessary evaluations and treatment, and it established training requirements for school security personnel.

The General Assembly established regional Risk & Vulnerability Teams to conduct school safety and security assessments at no cost to schools. They created Community Safety Grants for local municipalities, colleges and community groups to boost safety and reduce the risk of violence in their communities.

What can the General Assembly do now? I have called for a $20 million funding increase in this year’s budget that may be used for armed resource officers, metal detectors, door fortifications, emergency response training, security cameras, door-locking technology, and increasingly innovative solutions that will provide more security than taking guns away from law-abiding citizens.

We can also join 29 other states that have added an extra layer of security in the classrooms by allowing school staff to carry firearms. I’m introducing SB 1288, which will allow Pennsylvania school employees to be armed while on school property.

An employee carrying a firearm on school property will be required to possess a valid PA concealed carry permit, complete a rigorous firearms course, and be certified as proficient with the firearm the employee intends to carry on school grounds.

To be certified, training must include courses on protection of students, interactions with first responders, tactics for denying classroom entry to intruders, safe handling and storage of weapons, and proficiency with defensive weapons under duress.

Additionally, those certified to carry in school would provide their name and photograph to the local municipal Police Department and the Pennsylvania State Police. This will allow law enforcement to know who is certified to carry should they need to enter the building in an active shooter situation.

SB 1288 would not be a mandate but would give school staff the ability to be a last line of defense if they choose. Sadly, there are some who think they shouldn’t have that choice. The president of the teachers union in Pennsylvania has gone on every network to call this proposal “dangerous and absurd.” He believes that, even if a school employee has been trained, permitted, and certified, they should not have the ability to defend students in a worse-case life and death scenario.

Mr. Askey is dead wrong. Mass murderers are often attracted to “soft targets” where they know victims are not armed. According to the Crime Prevention Resource Center, there has not been a single mass shooting in a school where staff were permitted to carry a firearm. According to the Crime Research Center, there has never been an incident of lost or stolen firearms where school employees are permitted to carry. Overwhelmingly, those with concealed carry permits have proven themselves trustworthy for decades.

All of these school safety best practices are tangible, rational steps we can take to protect our students and protect our constitutional rights at the same time.

It’s also important to note that criminality, violence, violence with guns, and antisocial behavior are pathologies commonly linked to young men from fatherless homes. Confiscating guns does not address this demonstrably significant factor. We need to start a difficult conversation about this cultural disaster.

Citizens across the nation and in Pennsylvania have long been pressured to trade their liberty for security. One cannot exist without the other. We can do better at protecting our kids in schools without infringing upon the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Pennsylvanians.

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DelVal Reacts to Sen. Doug Mastriano’s Idea to Arm School Staff

A school shooting is a parent’s nightmare.

Hoping to make schools harder targets and therefore less likely to be chosen by a would-be mass murderer, state Sen. Doug Mastriano said he will introduce a measure to permit teachers and staff to carry guns.

Mastriano, the Republican candidate for governor, said in a statement, “After the recent tragedy in Uvalde, I will be introducing a bill to enhance the safety of our children while on school property.

“I plan to introduce a bill that will allow school employees who possess a valid Pennsylvania concealed carry permit to be armed while on school property,” he said. “An employee who wishes to carry a firearm on school property will also be required to complete a firearms course from a certified instructor with a signed certificate showing completion of a training and proficiency course for the firearm the employee intends to carry on school grounds.

“Presently, 28 states make it clear in statute that teachers or school staff can be armed while on school property. Pennsylvania is not one of them. Mass murderers are often attracted to ‘soft targets’ where they know victims are not armed. According to the Crime Prevention Resource Center, there has not been a single mass shooting in a school where teachers and staff were clearly allowed to carry a firearm,” he said.

Tom Hogan, a lawyer and former Chester County district attorney said, “The proposal to have armed and uniformed school resource officers in every school, preferably police officers, is an excellent idea for every school (that) can afford it. SROs act both as a visible deterrent to school shooters and the first line of defense if a school shooter attacks.”

However, Hogan went on to say, “arming teachers is not a good idea for multiple reasons. Teachers are untrained; they would not be effective against a school shooter. In addition, busy teachers might leave their firearms in places where they might be stolen. Teachers are not likely to get trained, as they already have a full plate of training just to do their regular jobs.

“When law enforcement shows up a chaotic scene of an active shooter in a school, anybody holding a gun that is not in a police uniform is probably going to be shot, which would include some hapless teacher,” Hogan said. “If your school happens to have any ex-Navy SEALS or Army Delta Force operators on staff, feel free to arm them, but your average teacher is not going to help matters by being armed.

“In Chester County, one of our SWAT commanders was a school resource officer for many years.  I always considered that to be the safest school in the county,” Hogan added.

Former Upper Darby Police chief Michael Chitwood,  on the other hand, sees value in Mastriano’s approach. “I think it’s a good idea if your training is appropriate for these people who are responsible for carrying a concealed weapon. The training and the psychological wherewithal to handle that job.”

Chitwood said he knows the issue has become a political football with parents and politicians for and against it.

“But from my perspective, I think you have to do everything you can to protect the children,” he said.

Several readers responded via Facebook.

“If a teacher chooses to exercise their Second Amendment rights, who am I to infringe upon them?” asked Michael Kittredge, a Jenkintown resident. “However,  (I) would hesitate to ‘require’ educators to be armed.”

Chad Demro said, “Harden facilities with layered security and revolving protocols. Enforce those rules with termination. Each school should have one or two arms vaults. Hire some men…not beta males…to handle firearms.”

Elkins Park resident Helaine Dubner Zlotnick said she is “in agreement to arm school resource officers guns if enough training is provided. Teachers should be able to be armed with a gun, but only if they feel comfortable and personally choose to do so.”

However, Alan Fels of Cheltenham said, “That is a crazy idea.”

And Attorney General Josh Shapiro, the Democrat running for governor, rejects the idea, too.

Shapiro said via Twitter, “We’re going to put a mental health counselor in every school, and give every student access to tele-mental health. We’re going to close the ghost gun loophole. We’re going to enact universal background checks. We’re going to finally pass red flag laws in Pennsylvania. I refuse to accept a reality where our children have to fear for their lives every time they go into the classroom. We have a moral obligation to act.”

Manuel Bonder, a spokesman for the Shapiro campaign said, “Attorney General Shapiro does not believe we should be arming teachers – he believes they should be able to focus on what they do best: teaching our kids. Shapiro supports existing Pennsylvania law that ensures teachers can teach and school safety is in the hands of trained professionals. As governor, he will continue working with law enforcement and lawmakers from both parties to ensure our schools are safe.”

A Morning Consult poll taken after the Uvalde shooting found most Americans support allowing teachers to arm themselves, 54-35 percent.


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FLOWERS: Abortion, Gun Violence and Root Causes

When the news leaked that the U.S. Supreme Court was about to overturn Roe v. Wade, some people argued that banning abortions wouldn’t end them. They said that it was much more efficient to examine the root causes behind why a woman would want an abortion and try to eliminate those instead of criminalizing the procedure.

They talked about support for pregnant mothers, expanded daycare, generous medical leave, financial subsidies, an expansion of programs like WIC, and all the other social safety net policies that would encourage a woman to bring a child into the world.

Even though I’m very anti-Roe, I think this is a reasonable position to take. Treat the underlying illness, not the symptom.

Funny how that principle doesn’t translate to other contexts. Take gun violence. Whenever there is a mass shooting, the default position for many of these same people is to demand a ban on guns. Some talk about additional legal restrictions, others talk about creating gun-free zones, and others think we should kill the beast with one direct blow, so to speak, and repeal the Second Amendment.

Going straight to the “ban guns” argument seems very much like the idea that if you overturn Roe, you can eliminate abortion. Some might bicker with the comparison because they don’t equate terminating a pregnancy with killing a human being, but that’s a philosophical point. Regardless of whether you believe the unborn child is human (science has something to say about that), the similarity in the reasoning process is the same:

We oppose killing, therefore, we remove the immediate cause or method of that killing.

But most of the anti-gun crowd prefer to play the “ban guns” card, instead of engaging in a holistic examination of the causes of massacres like those in Buffalo and Texas.

I gave a lecture this week to a group of Drexel students majoring in public health administration. I opened with a comparison between what happened in Uvalde, Texas, and what happened 10 years ago at Sandy Hook. The similarities are chilling.

Adam Lanza was a 20-year-old loner who had no father figure, lived with a mother who ignored his increasingly erratic behavior, and helped him purchase guns for his birthday and other holidays.  Salvador Ramos was an 18-year-old loner who had no father figure, lived with his grandmother (because apparently his mother had a serious drug problem), exhibited disturbing behavior like cutting himself, and he purchased semi-automatic weapons for his birthday.

If we focus only on the guns, we get a skewed picture of why these two young men snapped.

I am far from a gun enthusiast. I’ve never owned one, never shot one, and the only time I saw one in person was when I was dating a police officer years ago and he showed me his vast collection. I looked at those things as I’d look at objects in a museum: not particularly interesting.

I have no problem admitting that the proliferation of guns is a problem that needs to be addressed in a society that has far too many loopholes and allows far too many people to buy guns they shouldn’t have. Not even the great Antonin Scalia, who wrote the Heller decision that recognized an individual right to bear arms, thought that the Second Amendment was absolute.

Anyone who is farther to the right on guns than Scalia is a very scary person.

But again, when we focus on guns, we ignore the other equally important factors that contribute to the bloodshed of innocents. The most important ones are the destruction of the nuclear family and mental health. Whenever you raise the issue of mental health in conjunction with mass shootings, you get pushback from those who treat the mentally ill. They reason that since most of those who suffer from mental illness are not dangerous, it stigmatizes the majority to imply that shooters are “crazy.”  But, as I also mentioned to the students, that’s a function of our desperate need to avoid giving offense.

Who cares if you are offending the mental health community by making the valid point that these teenage shooters are sick?  Are we so immune to the sight of dead children that we worry about some hypothetical stigma for calling out the elephant in the room? Adam Lanza and Salvador Ramos were mentally disturbed. Say it.

The same goes for nuclear families. Those boys came from families where there was no male presence.  Coincidence? Not likely. Say it.

My point is this: If we are capable of considering alternatives to overturning Roe, we should be capable of considering alternatives to repealing the Second Amendment. The solution requires honesty, creativity, and — most of all — guts.


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GRAHAM: Solve Gun Violence? America’s Pols Would Rather ‘Fight’ Than ‘Fix’

Watching the heart-wrenching scene of sobbing parents mourning school children lost to senseless violence, Americans are asking ourselves once again: “Why can’t we fix America’s gun violence problem?”

As an angry parent, fed-up political junkie, and sick-and-tired citizen, I’ll tell you why:

Because we can’t fix anything.

Fix America’s gun problem? There are an estimated 400 million guns in America right now in the hands of a nation with a culture of violence going back at least 300 years. And we’re going to “fix” mass shootings and gun crime?

Folks, we can’t even fix the post office.

Everybody knows America’s postal service is an obsolete anachronism from the pre-internet era, that driving around house-to-house six days a week to put pieces of paper into a metal box is a ridiculous waste of time and money. But just weeks ago we “fixed” it by committing more than $100 billion in taxpayer dollars to keep the rickety system running.

The point is not to pick on your local postal workers. The point is ending Saturday mail delivery should be simple. It is a picayune problem in our world of COVID, Ukraine, and school shootings.

But our politics are so broken we can’t get that done. And you want to solve the problem of gun crime?

America at the moment is out of the problem-fixing business. We’d rather “fight” than “fix.”

One reason is our lack of faith in our would-be “fixers.” As we learned the hard way during the COVID-19 era, America’s current crop of “elites” — the technocrats, bureaucrats, and politicians who are supposed to be in the solution business — are lousy at their jobs.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention might have many fine abilities, but “controlling and preventing disease” isn’t among them. The Food and Drug Administration’s mishandling of COVID tracking and testing made the pandemic worse, not better.

And the political class demonstrated again and again, from mask mandates to school lockdowns, that it is impervious to data. Did it matter that keeping kids at home was an educational disaster that set back a generation of disadvantaged children? Not a bit.

It was far more important for our elites to virtue signal than problem solve.

And can you blame them? Where is the evidence that American voters are even interested in problem-solving?

Who are two of the hottest fundraisers in American politics right now? The far left’s Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) and the far right’s Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (MTG). Both spout streams of extremist nonsense – from Modern Monetary Theory to “Jewish Space Lasers” – and the checks keep pouring in. Primary candidates covet their endorsements.

Setting aside how awful their ideas are, do either of these two even want political solutions? They’re fighters, not fixers.

Take the southern border crisis, for example.

One of the hope-inspiring stories emerging from the horrors of Tuesday’s crime is that the murderer was stopped by a Border Patrol agent who acted without waiting for backup.

Confronting school shooters isn’t technically a problem Customs and Border Patrol (CPB) agents are supposed to solve, but he did it anyway – and at the risk of his own life. The irony is his day job is to work on a problem we won’t let him and his fellow agents solve – the chaos at the border.

Is the border problem difficult to solve? Perhaps. But compared to fixing gun violence, it’s middle school math.

But are we “fixing” it? Is there any prospect of even considering a serious solution for our lawless, chaotic border?

No. Instead, we’re using a COVID health regulation to temporarily hold back a wave of migration the Biden administration knows is coming – and that is on top of April’s highest number of CPB “encounters” ever in a single month.

People – it’s a border. It’s not something impossible, like building a self-sustaining Mars colony or figuring out how to get your teens off Tik Tok. All 193 member states of the United Nations have borders, and few of them have the mess we do.

You want a relatively secure border? Put up some more walls, punish businesses that hire illegal immigrants, and deport people who aren’t supposed to be here. Then make it easier for legal immigrants to come here and eventually become Americans.

It won’t be perfect or impervious, but it will work. We just have to get it done.

Except – we are never going to do it. Team AOC will never accept deportations for immigration enforcement; Team MTG opposes immigration and businesses will stop writing checks to politicians if they lose their cheap labor.

And besides, there is a lot more political power from chants of “No More Deportations” and “Close the Border!” than from “We came up with a reasonable, bipartisan compromise that solved the long-term problem!”

What can we do about gun violence? Very little. But until we can stop fighting, stop turning political disagreements into character assassinations, stop declaring political compromise a crime — until we can stop making a virtue out of our willingness to commit rhetorical violence in the name of our petty partisanship — we won’t fix anything.

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