Detroit Police Board OKs Use of Facial Recognition Tech by Officers

The Detroit Board of Police Commissioners approved the use of controversial facial recognition technology by the Detroit Police Department. (Andy Olesko / CNS)

DETROIT – The Detroit Board of Police Commissioners voted to approve the Detroit Police Department’s use of controversial facial recognition technology to help catch criminals.

“This is a great day,” Detroit Chief of Police James Craig said after the vote.

Craig recently submitted a revised directive for the use of the technology that addressed several recommendations made by the commissioners.

The directive said the system would be limited to when officers have “reasonable suspicion” of home invasions and violent crimes involving incidents like shootings, sexual assaults and carjacking. The system cannot assess immigration status on individuals and was restricted from accessing live surveillance streaming video or any security camera device. Outside agencies would be allowed access to the information if needed.

The directive also clarified the technology will not be used to identify a suspect, but as an investigatory lead. A local security officer will be assigned to monitor requests and confirm the purge of irrelevant information.

Misuse of the system will be considered major misconduct that requires notification to the mayor, City Council and Police Board of Commissioners within 24 hours if an incident occurs.

In hearings held earlier this spring, Congress agreed to a ban on the concept until further studies could be conducted. The Detroit Police Department installed their system anyway.

U.S. Representative Rashida Tliab, a Democrat representing part of Detroit, told Michigan Radio she was concerned.

“There just seems to be a lot of unanswered questions,” she told the station in June. “That to me is very much calling for a moratorium and back off in using this technology until we do something about it on the federal level.”

San Francisco became the first city in the United States to ban the use of the technology in May.

Detroit started a system in 2016 with “Project Green Light,” a HD camera network designed to assist police in monitoring stores, gas stations and even churches by establishing a live feed from the cameras to police headquarters.

Detroit Chief of Police James Craig speaks to reporters after the city’s Board of Police Commissioners approved the use of controversial facial recognition technology by the Detroit Police Department. (Andy Olesko / CNS)

The concept was panned in a report by the University of Georgetown in May which called the project “expensive and expandable.”

The report also said Craig was not forthcoming with how the Green Light system would help with the facial recognition. Craig responded with a published letter accusing the authors of inaccuracies.

At a public meeting on June 11, commission board member Willie Burton was pulled from his seat and arrested by officers when he refused to be quiet at the request of other board members. Burton had written an op-ed for the Metro Times days earlier in which he blasted the use of cameras.

“They are advocating a system that is known to have a bias against people of color: the system is much less accurate at identifying African Americans (especially ones with a darker complexion) than Caucasians.” Burton wrote.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan published a letter in which he denied the use of the technology to track innocent citizens but said it was fair game for criminal offenders.

“If your loved one was shot and there is a picture of the shooter, wouldn’t you expect the police to use every tool they can to identify that offender? I fully support the technology’s use for that limited purpose.”

Craig invited Detroiters to learn more about the system.

“We want them to come in,” he said.

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