Inside the Detroit Police Department’s Real Time Crime Center in downtown Detroit, where 80 employees are trained to use facial recognition software. (Photo by Bryce Huffman)

The battle over using facial recognition technology in Detroit has just intensified. Detroit City Council voted Tuesday afternoon to approve a two-year $220,000 contract extension with software company DataWorks Plus to upgrade and maintain the facial recognition software the Detroit Police Department uses. 

Supporters of the technology say it can help assist law enforcement in catching criminals more quickly. According to DPD, facial recognition technology has been used 106 times this year and has helped assist in 12 arrests. 

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However, critics of the technology point to its inability to consistently identify Black and Brown faces. The objection rings loudly in Detroit, a city that is about 80% Black. Another criticism of the technology is that, by Police Chief James Craig’s own admission, the software correctly identifies a suspect on its initial findings 4% of the time. 

Despite these concerns, the council voted to approve the contract 6-3. Council President Brenda Jones, Pro-Tem Mary Sheffield, and member Raquel Castaneda-Lopez voted no. 

Detroit’s use of facial recognition technology led to the wrongful arrest of a Black man and Farmington Hills resident earlier this year. Despite the national attention sparked by the case, Mayor Mike Duggan and Chief Craig continue to support use of the technology. Deadline Detroit reports that the city would have kept using this technology even if the council had voted against it. 

Tawana Petty, Director of the Data Justice Program with the Detroit Community Technology Project, has been vocal about her dislike and distrust of facial recognition technology. Petty spoke during the public comment section of the meeting before the council voted to approve the contract extension. She believes the decision has wide ranging implications. 

We have leveraged facial recognition surveillance against Black residents, despite the fact that the technology is racially biased and being banned in predominantly white cities, we have welcomed with open arms the militarization of the federal government under a White House that is consistently stoking racial flames in defense of white supremacy,” Petty said. 

“When history is written about this day in 2020, it will not only speak of the pandemic or the uprisings, it will speak of the year that Detroit became hostage to social control under the Trump administration,” she said. “The day that a predominantly Black city council squashed a Black city in lockstep with a racist president.”

“When history is written about this day in 2020, it will not only speak of the pandemic or the uprisings, it will speak of the year that Detroit became hostage to social control under the Trump administration.” – Tawana Petty

The DataWorks Plus contract officially ended in July, but the city continued use of the software to assist in criminal investigations. Many of the public commentators, including Petty, say they will continue to object to the use of this technology. 

What are your thoughts on facial recognition technology? Should Detroit invest in technology that is known to misidentify Black faces? Have media reports about the use of this technology been missing context necessary to understand the issue? Share your thoughts with us on Twitter @BridgeDet313 and don’t forget to share and subscribe for more content like this!

Bryce Huffman is a reporter for BridgeDetroit. He was formerly a reporter for Michigan Radio, and host of the podcast, Same Same Different.

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1 Comment

  1. facial recognition technology
    I think that identifies people that have been arrested before and whom the cops have a picture of
    why are people who have been arrested or imprisoned hounded and harassed after

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