Detroit Police Commissioners Approve Facial Recognition Technology Policy

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Photo credit WWJ/ Vickie Thomas

DETROIT (WWJ) -- The Detroit Board of Police Commissioners on Thursday voted to approve a policy that will allow the department to use facial recognition in the fight against crime.

The technology, which has been in use by the department under standard operating procedures for more than a year, has been a controversial topic over the last several months, leading to a packed, standing-room-only public crowd at Thursday's vote at Public Safety Headquarters. Commissioners voted in favor of the policy 8-3.

Critics of the technology say it is not always accurate and often makes mistakes with people of color.

The revised policy says police may only use the technology on still images to identify suspects that were involved in violent crimes. A previous proposal of the policy said police could use the technology to scan faces in real time only in the event of a major threat to the city, such as a terrorist attack. The new revised policy says police cannot ever use the tech in real time.

Officials said prior to the vote that they took the public's concerns into consideration before drafting the revised policy. Other revisions include stronger penalties for anyone who is found abusing the technology, and a clause prohibiting police from sharing photos used in the system with private companies.

The department first started using the facial recognition software in 2017 after Detroit City Council approved a $1 million purchase of the technology. The software has led to months of protest and controversy.

Meeko Williams with the Metro Detroit Political Action Network told WWJ's Stephanie Davis it's going to cause more damage and harm to the city's comeback than it will bring good. 

“This law is really going to harm African-Americans in the city of Detroit, mostly poor. And it’s also going to bring about lawsuits, it’s going to put us back into emergency management all over again," Williams said.

Meanwhile, there is legislation making its way in Lansing that could ban facial recognition or place a five year moratorium on its use, according to Commissioner William Davis.

"I voted for it because it's not accurate and as a city of Detroit retiree, to have my pension cut and my healthcare stolen, I don't think I need to be voting on something that's going to increase lawsuits against the city because it's not reliable," Davis said.

Detroit Police Chief James Craig refutes claims by naysayers that the technology will be misused, saying it is just another tool in the department's toolbox for solving violent crimes. Craig says the department cannot and will not use the software for live surveillance.

Tom Wilson, a precinct delegate in the department, is on board with the policy.

"Anything that can make, as I call them, Detroit's finest, the men and women of the police department, make their job that much easier, I'm for it," Wilson said.