Eastern Michigan University invests in AI-enhanced campus security to prevent gun violence
David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU, and I'm David Fair. Eastern Michigan University today is announcing new and enhanced security measures aimed at better preventing and dealing with gun violence. We all worry about gun violence, and, certainly, school shootings have taken a toll around the country. As such, Eastern Michigan University has partnered with the Philadelphia area-based company ZeroEyes to level up securities, shorten response times and afford public safety officials more time to notify the campus community of a potential or impending threat. Now, what is ZeroEyes, and how is it going to work? Our guest is here to help us better understand today. Matthew Lige serves as executive director of public safety and chief of police at Eastern Michigan University. And thank you for making time today, Chief. I appreciate it.
Matthew Lige: David, thank you for having me. I appreciate having the opportunity to discuss this with our listeners here at EMU.
David Fair: I have to tell you. With no context for what it is, ZeroEyes sounds kind of creepy. The only context I really have is that it is an artificially intelligence-based gun detection video analytics platform. That's a lot to unpack, so let's give it more context. This is a system, I assume, is going to work in conjunction with existing campus security surveillance cameras.
Matthew Lige: That's correct, David. As you know, and most of our listeners know, EMU has over a thousand cameras that cover main campus and our athletic complex. This ZeroEyes technology is adaptable to our existing camera infrastructure, and it is designed specifically to detect a displayed firearm on campus.
David Fair: So, how does it specifically identify a displayed firearm?
Matthew Lige: Once an individual moves into camera view, one of our cameras that's equipped with this technology, the programming is designed to identify, through various points of contact, an object that appears to be a firearm. Once that detection occurs, an alert is sent to the ZeroEyes operations center. That center is mannd 24 hours a day by highly-trained staff. They verify the image that the artificial intelligence detected. And then, that image is immediately sent to my 24 hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week operations center. And first responders, within 3 to 5 seconds, are made aware that there is an individual or individuals on our campus who have displayed a firearm.
David Fair: And have your officers been trained on how to respond once dispatch has been notified?
Matthew Lige: Yeah. Responding to an ongoing act of violence has been a training platform that EMU has been employed in for a number of years and certainly since I arrived. This technology, the real difference maker for this is once we are notified of a detection, we get a real live image of the individual who's displayed a firearm. We know exactly the clothing descriptionm and we know exactly what type of firearm is being displayed at that exact moment. We know where they are on campus. And when that individual moves into a building around a building, our camera system is designed to track that individual. With that, it is going to absolutely improve our response efficiency. It's taking the emotion out of calling 911 when you're scared. And it's putting it into real live information that our first responders can respond to accurately and correctly.
David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU, and we're talking with Eastern Michigan University Police Chief Matthew Lige about new campus security measures announced today. It's called ZeroEyes. And we're learning about it together as we speak. Now, I mentioned the word surveillance. You did not. But whenever that word is bandied about, there's a lot of community concern everywhere in the country. The result of surveillance, as it were, is that it often targets and adversely impacts people of color more dramatically, specifically young Black males. How will this system avoid such results?
Matthew Lige: This technology, David, is object recognition. It is not facial recognition. It is a completely separate platform that EMU does not employ on our camera system. It is not part of this ZeroEyes package. We specifically identified a program whose intent and limitations is that of object recognition around firearms.
David Fair: So, once a gun on display is identified, if you don't have facial recognition technology, how do you most immediately locate the suspect you're looking for?
Matthew Lige: Well, first responders, again, get an accurate clothing and physical description of an individual. We know, through this technology, what building they are approaching, where they are on campus. When they enter a building, we have the ability, with the technology we have, to follow that individual. And that is going to...I can't even begin to quantify how that will improve our efficiency if we respond to a circumstance where a firearm has been displayed. And truly, David, and for all our listeners, the hope is we never need to use this. But if we are efficient in our response with this technology, my hope is that before an ongoing act of violence occurs, we are able to intervene and hopefully de-escalate before any tragedy occurs.
David Fair: And are there parameters and boundaries set in the agreement with ZeroEyes? Will it be monitoring anything else on campus: computers, e-mails or anything else?
Matthew Lige: Oh, that is a great question. ZeroEyes will only be alerted--their operations center will only be alerted--if a firearm is detected. There is no one at ZeroEyes that is sitting in their command center and just viewing video or viewing buildings or students or anything of that nature. They only know when the detection has occurred, that verification happens, and then they work in conjunction with us to make sure that there is monitoring and tracking of this individual.
David Fair: Once again, we're talking with Eastern Michigan University Police Chief Matthew Lige about newly announced campus security measures here on 89 one WEMU. And, in many respects, this is a personal issue for you. Eastern Michigan University will become the first institution of higher learning in the state to contract with ZeroEyes. Why did you personally want to be first?
Matthew Lige: It was not an intentional timeline for us here at Eastern. I am frustrated professionally and personally that our country is experiencing the gun violence that we have been for way too long now, and it's crossing every barrier. High ed is not exempt from that. I will say to you, I think most of your listeners know I have had a real life experience with my daughter at Michigan State, and that has been a parent game changer and a professional game changer for me. And certainly after the incident that happened in February, I had been reviewing this technology from an arm's length prior to the incident at Michigan State. And then, following Michigan State with that personal connection the following day, we had a cabinet level meeting, and one of the questions that I was asked was, "Chief, what don't we have that we need that we can bring here to campus to do everything we can prevent from this happening here?" And that's where this really gained traction and gained momentum. And now, four or five months later, through a lot of vetting and a lot of important conversations, we are to the point where, in about four weeks, we will begin installation on 500 digital cameras throughout campus.
David Fair: Beyond the mass shooting at Michigan State University that so dramatically impacted you personally, there's been an uptick of violent crime in Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township. The EMU Department, along with the Washtenaw County Sheriff's Department, has been supplementing the work of Ypsilanti Police while it's short-staffed to respond and deal with gun violence. Was that a part of the decision-making process to bring the system to campus now?
Matthew Lige: I don't think so. I think when it comes right down to it, the decision to bring this platform here was designed to benefit the students, staff and visitors on this campus. Secondary to that, if in doing that, we can support our partners in the city, in the township, we certainly will. But the nucleus behind this was another evaluation in a constant review of what we do with regard to safety and security, to make sure that what we have is appropriate and relevant and is designed to create an environment where our students can learn and be inspired, and our teachers can do the same thing.
David Fair: Obviously, this is aimed at being a preventative measure, but how prevalent an issue are guns on campus? Were there many gun-related incidents over the past year, or has your department seized many guns?
Matthew Lige: Since my tenure here, we've had three gun-related incidents on campus, none of which resulted in injury or loss of life, but firearms that were brought to campus. And of those three incidents, we ultimately recovered three firearms. And we recovered those three firearms before, you know, any tragedy occurred. Had we had this technology in place prior to right now, I'm confident that we would have been able to seize every firearm that was displayed, hold those accountable that brought them on campus, and then, again, you know, prevent an act of violence on our campus.
David Fair: How much is this program going to cost, and how is it going to be paid for?
Matthew Lige: I am grateful to say I've had tremendous support from the president and the executive cabinet and the Board of Regents. We've entered into a three-year service agreement with ZeroEyes to, again, equipped 500 digital cameras with this technology at a cost of about $300,000 for the duration of the contract.
David Fair: When will the system be fully operational?
Matthew Lige: I expect initial installation mid-October, and that's where our first group of cameras will arrive. We're equipping 500, so that's going to take some time. My estimation is, by the end of fall semester, we should be installed with 500 and operational by about November, early December.
David Fair: Chief Lige, I want to thank you for your time today and sharing the information. I'm sure it is of great interest to the campus community and beyond.
Matthew Lige: Thank you, sir. I appreciate the conversation.
David Fair: That is Matthew Lige, executive director of public safety and chief of police at Eastern Michigan University. To learn more about ZeroEyes and its implementation at EMU, visit our website at WEMU dot org. And we'll get you all linked up. I'm David Fair, and this is 89 one WEMU FM Ypsilanti.
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