Detroiters get oversight of surveillance technology, but is it enough?

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Police use of surveillance technology has expanded in recent years. Shotspotter is used to locate gunfire and Project Greenlight monitors video footage from hundreds of locations in the city. (BridgeDetroit photo)

The Detroit City Council unanimously passed an ordinance Tuesday that gives residents oversight over city surveillance systems. Residents spoke in favor of the Community Input Over Government Surveillance (CIOGS) ordinance during a public hearing Monday. Residents also spoke in support of the ordinance back in April

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Council President Pro Tem Mary Sheffield helped shape the ordinance and believes it is important for the City to strike a balance between the safety that surveillance technology can provide and the ability for residents to voice their opposition to it. 

“I authored (the CIOGS ordinance) with the unanimous support of my colleagues,” said Sheffield.  It “sends a clear signal that Detrotiers’ civil liberties matter and that residents’ input should be a factor in decisions to employ new surveillance technology in our city.” 

According to a Compritech report from February, Detroit has about 8,836 cameras for 670,031 people. This number, which includes traffic cameras and outdoor security cameras, is equivalent to about 13.19 cameras per 1,000 people. Detroit has the seventh highest number of cameras per capita in the country. 


Detroit businesses that have installed Project Greenlight cameras and technology. (City of Detroit map)

Although the ordinance has strong community support and was passed unanimously by City Council, critics say the ordinance doesn’t go far enough to protect Detroiters.

Tawana Petty, the National Organizing Director at Data for Black Lives, has been vocal about her dislike and distrust of DPD’s use of facial recognition technology and Project Green Light, a real-time crime monitoring system. Petty, who was an early supporter of CIOGS, says the current iteration of the ordinance leaves too much up for interpretation.

“A policy that leaves ‘exigent circumstances,’ to be defined by the DPD, approved in closed session by Detroit City Council, offers consistent opportunities to negate the policy under repeat extensions, I see as a predictable slippery slope,” Petty said. 

The ordinance does not define “exigent circumstances” or outline in what instances city departments can break the provision. CIOGS also allows DPD to address those matters behind closed doors instead of in public with residents present. 

Petty says she is “beyond exhausted” by the fight for more government transparency surrounding surveillance technology. She worries that DPD will abuse the ordinance to suit its needs. 

“The implementation of DPD’s mass surveillance program and model of oversight will be viewed as a model for other Black and Brown communities,” she said. 

Petty also said in a tweet that she read the ordinance and felt “deflated.”

“However … we are running out of options,” she said in a tweet. 

Scotty Boman, Community Advisory Council chair, is also critical of the CIOGS ordinance as it is currently written. Boman says he applauds the ordinance as a “baby step in the right direction,” but he said it doesn’t go far enough. 

“We should have a requirement that people only are subject to surveillance when there is a warrant to put them under surveillance, effectively similar to a search warrant,” Boman said. 

Reid Branche Wilson, an executive manager with the Detroit police, says the ordinance would “not jeopardize” public safety.

Phil Mayor, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Michigan, expressed his “enthusiastic support” of the CIOGS ordinance in Monday’s public hearing. He says it gives residents more power over how their tax dollars are spent.

“When the City Council is making a decision between whether or not to invest that money in our community or to invest that money in watching our community, we ourselves have a part of (the conversation),” Mayor said. 

Peter Blackmer, a Detroit resident and an African-American studies professor at Eastern Michigan University, said, “CIOGS gives residents agency in determining what surveillance technologies will and will not be allowed (in their city). These are basic demands in a representational democracy,” Blackmer said. 

You can read the full CIOGS ordinance here. What do you think of mass surveillance? Does this ordinance go far enough? Let us know your thoughts on Twitter @BridgeDet313. Don’t forget to subscribe to our weekly newsletter FOR FREE at BridgeDetroit.com! 

This post has been updated to clarify Tawana Petty’s current role with Data for Black Lives.

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