Facial recognition technology approved in Detroit despite mounting opposition


Detroit's Real Time Crime Center. - STEVE NEAVLING
  • Steve Neavling
  • Detroit's Real Time Crime Center.

The Detroit Board of Police Commissioners approved a new policy governing the use of facial recognition technology on Thursday, despite mounting opposition from the public and civil rights groups.

But the fate of the technology hangs in the balance because Detroit City Council and the Michigan House and Senate are considering imposing a moratorium on the technology, which has been criticized as unconstitutional and unreliable.

The commission voted 8-3 to approve the new policy, which limits the police department’s use of the $1 million software. Under the new policy, police are prohibited from using the technology for immigration enforcement, minor crimes, and identifying people during protests.

Commissioners Willie Bell, Elizabeth Brooks, Shirley Burch, Lisa Carter, Eva Garza Dewaelsche, Evette Griffie, Annie Holt and Jim Holley voted in support of the policy. Those opposed were commissioners Willie Burton, Darryl Brown, and William Davis.

“Today was a setback in the fight for civil liberties and democracy,” Burton told Metro Times. “By approving this policy, the DBOPC showed it doesn’t care about the voice of the people and is just an appendage of the police department.”

He added, “The people will not be silent, and we will take our fight to Lansing.”

With no public input, the Detroit Police Department has been using the technology for nearly two years. The department faced a backlash following an alarming study by Georgetown Law’s Center on Privacy & Technology in May. Researchers said Detroit’s extensive surveillance network and its $1 million facial recognition software “risks fundamentally changing the nature of our public spaces.”

Detroit's facial recognition software is especially pervasive because it's used on a quickly expanding surveillance network of high-definition cameras under Mayor Mike Duggan's Project Green Light, a crime-fighting initiative that began in 2016 at gas stations and fast-food restaurants. Since then, the city has installed more than 500 surveillance cameras at parks, schools, low-income housing complexes, immigration centers, gas stations, churches, abortion clinics, hotels, health centers, apartments, and addiction treatment centers. Now, the city is installing high-definition cameras at roughly 500 intersections at a time when other cities are scaling back because of privacy concerns.

Residents and civil liberty groups teamed up to oppose the technology, saying it will lead to false arrests.

Detroit Police Chief James Craig said he’s aware of the public’s concerns and will ensure the technology is not abused or misused.

Stay on top of Detroit news and views. Sign up for our weekly issue newsletter delivered each Wednesday.

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Detroit Metro Times. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Detroit Metro Times, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at letters@metrotimes.com.

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Detroit Metro Times Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Metro Times Press Club for as little as $5 a month.