Detroiters demand ‘transparency’ on surveillance in their city

Print More

The Detroit Police Department’s Real Time Crime Center in downtown Detroit monitors facial-recognition software. Additionally, more than 600 cameras are installed at businesses that participate in the City’s Project Greenlight program. There are also traffic cameras located at several city intersections. (BridgeDetroit photo by Bryce Huffman)

Detroit residents and City officials spoke in support of the proposed Community Input Over Government Surveillance ordinance Monday during a City Council meeting. The ordinance would require City-run departments, including the Detroit Police Department, to hold public hearings before it acquires any surveillance technology. It would also require the city to establish guidelines for using the technology and require annual reporting on its use. 

Related:

Yvonne Jones was the first Detroit resident to speak about the technology during public comment on Monday. Jones says she is in favor of the ordinance because she believes surveillance technology doesn’t prevent crimes from happening. 

“What it does is allow the government to disproportionately target vulnerable communities and treat everyone who lives and works in the city like they are a threat to public safety,” Jones said. 

Rodd Monts, the campaign outreach coordinator with the ACLU of Michigan, helped draft the language in the proposal. 


“Many Detroiters feel like their voices aren’t being heard, and this represents an important step towards full transparency,” Monts said. 

Monts, along with the ACLU of Michigan, has voiced concern over the City’s use of controversial programs like Project Green Light and its use of facial-recognition technology. The City has been using Project Green Light since 2016, and supporters say it has been a deterrent for crime against businesses and buildings with the Green Light cameras installed. Critics say it is a form of paid preferential treatment by law enforcement officers. 

Facial-recognition technology has been used in at least two wrongful arrests of innocent Black men, Robert Williams of Farmington Hills and Michael Oliver of Detroit. Critics often point out that the technology has a pattern of misidentifying Black and Brown faces, which can be troublesome in a city that is 80 percent African American. 

Others spoke in favor of the ordinance because it will, in theory, increase government transparency. Dawud Walid, who is with the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ Michigan chapter, called into the meeting. Walid says the ordinance helps residents and others voice real concerns. 

“Citizens have been reaching out to City government to have greater transparency and pertain to the technologies that our government, including law enforcement, will be using to surveil, not only citizens, but those who travel into the city to do business,” Walid said. 

Detroit resident Carmella Campbell, who supports the ordinance, called into the meeting to say the ordinance is about more than just police accountability, but it’s also “about ensuring fiscal responsibility, and the best and most responsible use of Detroit taxpayer money.” 

“As with any major procurement discussion or return on investment, it’s a critical step in the decision-making process, and it’s vital that the City Council and Detroit residents be a part of that discussion, and ultimately the decision on any purchases for surveillance equipment throughout the city,” Campbell said. 

Council President Pro Tem Mary Sheffield worked on the proposed ordinance and says that it is in the best interest of both residents and City departments who may want to use surveillance technology. 

“This ordinance strikes the proper balance between being transparent with the community, while also not jeopardizing the public safety mission (of the police department),” Sheffield said. 

Concilmember Scott Benson said the ordinance will be up for discussion again at an unspecified later date and will get a formal public hearing where more members of the community will have a chance to share their thoughts. 

One thought on “Detroiters demand ‘transparency’ on surveillance in their city

  1. Nicely done. It also brings to mind Quicken Loans surveillance efforts in the Downtown area and what cameras in the hands of private entities means for the public.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *