Detroit expands surveillance monitoring program to include schools

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Project Green Light camera at a McDonald’s on Eight Mile Road in Detroit. More than 300 partners have invested thousands of dollars in the real-time surveillance program by the Detroit Police Department. - VIOLET IKONOMOVA
  • Violet Ikonomova
  • Project Green Light camera at a McDonald’s on Eight Mile Road in Detroit. More than 300 partners have invested thousands of dollars in the real-time surveillance program by the Detroit Police Department.

Detroit's real-time surveillance monitoring program has made its way into the education space, even as civil liberties advocates question its purported impact on crime reduction.

Nearly two dozen cameras now surround the Randolph Career Technical Education School on the city's west side, a press release from the mayor's office says, marking the first time an educational facility has signed on for the Project Green Light surveillance program. The partnership with the training center is just the beginning — the press release says the superintendent of the Detroit Public Schools Community District is in talks with the city to expand Project Green Light to other schools.

"DPSCD students’ safety is key to increasing our enrollment and creating a learning environment where students can focus on their education,” superintendent Nikolai Vitti says in the release. “We are grateful for the security camera infrastructure that will protect not only the investments that were made to bring Randolph Career and Technical Center back to a thriving educational institution, but the newly installed cameras will also ensure the safety of our faculty and guests as well.”

Detroit, a high-crime city with a thinly spread police force, has been increasingly relying on the Project Green Light real-time surveillance program to help it solve crimes. The program allows private businesses to purchase high-definition cameras that film the exterior and sometimes interior of their sites, with the footage then streamed into the Detroit Police Department. The cameras have not been shown to help stop crimes in progress, but the city has credited the high-definition footage with helping them quickly catch suspects after the fact. The city also views the Green Light program as a crime deterrent, saying it helped reduce crime by an average 11 percent between 2016 and 2017 at the majority of Green Light participating businesses.



But civil liberties advocates have pointed out that several factors might be skewing the crime reduction data. Crime saw a modest decline citywide during that period, and additional facets of the program — improved lighting, weekly police visits — are the kinds of things that can drive down crime on their own.

Despite such critiques, the city has managed to successfully expand the program. There are now more than 300 businesses paying to participate in Project Green Light. One business owner Metro Times spoke with for a story earlier this year said he shelled out thousands to join the program because he felt he'd lose business if he did not have Green Light lighting and signage, and a neighboring business did. Other business owners said they were in it for the additional promised perk of improved emergency response times.
“It’s more of a ‘pay and we’ll come or don’t pay and we’re not coming,’” Billy Jawad, who operates the Mobil at 7 Mile and Meyers, told us at the time. “We used to call Detroit police and sometimes they wouldn’t come 'til the next day. The longest they take now is 10 to 15 minutes.”

Project Green Light comes at a cost of about $5,000 plus monthly fees for cloud storage and high-speed internet. The 23 cameras at the Randolph Center will be paid for by the city workforce agency, Detroit Employment Solutions Corp., whose website says is funded through the Workforce Development Agency and State of Michigan. The funding for the green light cameras, specifically, comes from private funds raised for the recent capital improvements that were made at the school, a spokesman for Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said.

It's unclear who would foot the bill for surveillance monitoring should the program expand to Detroit public schools. A spokeswoman for DPSCD says plans are in their early stages, and she could not yet say.


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