The vote comes as the city finds itself in the midst of a heated debate around its current surveillance programs and the 2017 purchase of facial recognition technology from a South Carolina company, DataWorks.
(TNS) — After peppering Detroit Police Chief James Craig with questions for more than an hour, the City Council approved, 6-3, the allocation of $4 million for the expansion of DPD's Real Time Crime Center and the development of two "mini" crime monitoring centers.
The initiative, which utilizes bond funds, will direct $2 million toward the 8th and 9th precincts where mini real time crime centers are set to be built, and $2 million toward the main Real Time Crime Center within the Public Safety Headquarters downtown.
Nearly $8 million in bond money was allocated to building out the the department's original Real Time Crime Center in 2016. Real Time Crime Centers are where footage from surveillance programs like Project Green Light get streamed into.
The vote comes as Detroit finds itself in the midst of a heated debate around its current surveillance programs and the 2017 purchase of facial recognition technology from a South Carolina company, DataWorks. The confusion and opposing views as to how all these different pieces fit together was on full display Tuesday.
DPD insisted that the contract in question was simply about expansion work.
"The issue before the board today has nothing to do with facial recognition, this has to do with the expansion of the Real Time Crime Center," said Assistant Police Chief James White.
This was reiterated by Scott Benson, who heads council's public safety committee and voted in favor of the contract.
"I've been to over 10 community meeting in the last three weeks to ask them specifically what they feel about Real Time Crime Centers. Invariably the conversation conflates and they start talking about facial recognition technology. I'm going to make it very clear the contract that we've moved out of committee does not include software, nor does it include cameras."
Those in opposition, however, had a difficult time parsing it all out.
"We can look at this as piecemeal — this is for the Detroit Building Authority to build an actual building — but if the intent and use of that space is to expand the Real Time Crime Center, then I think It’s disingenuous to say this is just about building an actual building and not the program within," said council member Raquel Castaneda Lopez, who along with President Brenda Jones and Pro-Tem President Mary Sheffield voted against the contract.
"You can take still shot images and feed that into DataWorks, so until I'm comfortable with the policy that guides DataWorks and facial recognition, I can't support any expansion of surveillance, period, in this city," said Mary Sheffield.
The public-facing push to ramp up surveillance in Detroit began in January 2016 when DPD launched Project Green Light. Starting with eight gas stations, the program has participating businesses pay for and install surveillance cameras on their property that feed directly to DPD's Real Time Crime Center. Additionally, as part of the program, businesses commit to ensuring they have robust lighting and a green light outside of their vicinity to let customers know they are a part of the program.
Today, more than 500 businesses — including churches, schools and pharmacies — are part of the program. There are also two "Green Light Corridors" and one public housing property signed on to be part of the program.
In March, at the mayor's State of the City Address, a new surveillance program was announced: The Neighborhood Real-Time Intelligence Program, a new $9 million initiative that would use local and federal traffic modernization funds to put high-definition cameras at various intersections in the neighborhoods.
Focus on these programs intensified in May, however, following a report from Georgetown Law Center on Privacy & Technology which detailed the city's 2017 purchase of facial recognition software from DataWorks Plus for over $1 million. The report revived conversations about the technology, and also the network of cameras around the city, whose footage could be pulled and fed into the software.
In the midst of this, last month, the Board of Police Commissioners was asked to vote on two items that originally were explained as being intertwined: rules for the Neighborhood Real-Time Intelligence Program and rules for facial recognition software usage.
The board approved the directive dealing with neighborhood cameras, but at the last minute DPD pulled the facial recognition directive.
While no new vote is currently scheduled, the weeks that have followed have been filled with tension and questions around the surveillance network and specifically the confusion around what surveillance programs are in place and how they're being deployed.
This lack of clarity was brought up Tuesday by those in opposition to the Real Time Crime Center expansion.
"Before this council approves any expansion, or increase in funding for surveillance we should consider this: there has been a consistent lack of clarity about what surveillance programs are in place, what they entail and most importantly whether or not they actually work," Eric Williams, an attorney with the Detroit Justice Center, who is also working with ACLU-Michigan on a committee opposing the city's surveillance tactics, said during public comment before the vote.
Williams is critical of the city's entire camera network, maintaining that the police department is compartmentalizing its various surveillance programs, such as Project Green Light, the Green Light Corridors and now the Neighborhood Real-Time Intelligence Program, in an attempt to downplay how vast the matrix truly is and to create confusion.
On Tuesday, however, he focused on the efficacy of Project Green Light — the most well-known program within the network.
"We were told, for example that Project Green Light would be studied, that there would be a report on its effectiveness. This was over a year ago, we've heard nothing," Williams continued. "We keep seeing increases but we're seeing nothing to show that the surveillance programs in place actually work."
As the Free Press previously reported, evidence of the success of the camera network — specifically Project Green Light — is inconclusive.
Speaking on Tuesday Craig defended the success of Project Green Light, saying that since 2015 the city has seen a 60% reduction in carjackings.
"I say that’s not because how we deploy physical police officers, that’s because how we’ve leveraged technology. And so different decisions are being made by suspects who commit crimes in places of opportunity and places of opportunity are frankly those places like liquor stores, gas stations where people congregate typically during the night hours," he said explaining why he was tying this reduction to Project Green Light.
Critics, however, point out that this statistic does not differentiate between green light and non-green light locations and ignores the fact that crime has been going down for years.
Carjackings — a combination of motor vehicle theft and another violent crime such as robbery, murder or assault — and are not reported to the FBI, making it difficult to fact-check. Additionally, the city's own crime database has, currently, only two reports of carjackings between December 2016 and present.
The crime of motor vehicle theft in the city of Detroit — something that is actually reported to the FBI — has been trending down for years, with the clearance rate also dropping from 70% in 2010 to 34% in 2017.
Researchers say the data that is typically touted by the police department — declining crime at Project Green Light sites and declining carjackings across the city — does not actually illustrate much.
What would be necessary to assess the efficacy of the program, according to researchers, is a comprehensive study that compares Green Light locations with non-Green Light locations over time.
Michigan State University — via the city of Detroit — was granted funding from the Bureau of Justice Assistance to create such a study. However, nothing has been published as of yet.
"We are monitoring crime trends (findings to date are similar to what Project Green Light Detroit reports). We are also putting in plan a method to track cases occurring at Project Green Light Detroit locations through the arrest and prosecution stages as a way of testing whether Project Green Light Detroit increases arrest and prosecution and thereby may have a perceived deterrence effect. However, we are only beginning that effort," Edmund McGarrell, the director of the Michigan Justice Statistics Center, who is spearheading the study, wrote in an email Tuesday, adding: "I realize we are not really very helpful at this point."
While McGarrell told the Free Press last fall that the study was supposed to be completed by April 2019, on Tuesday Trisha Stein, director of administrative operations for DPD, said it wouldn't be done until September 30, 2020.
In the absence of a conclusive study, experts say it is nearly impossible to tie Detroit's crime reduction — something many cities across the country are also seeing — specifically to Green Light.
City Council has not yet voted on the installation of new cameras for the Neighborhood Real-Time Intelligence Program.
If that is approved, by the end of 2019, cameras would be installed at 11 intersections on the Greenfield and East Seven Mile corridors. Additionally, the Department of Public Works would add cameras to 29 intersections across the city. In 2020, an additional 400 cameras are planned to be added.
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