DetroitPolice Chief James White
Detroit Police Chief James White met with officials from several law enforcement agencies from southeast Michigan on Thursday, May 5, 2022, to talk about strategies to fight gun violence on freeways in Metro Detroit. (Bryce Huffman/BridgeDetroit)

City and state police joined Thursday with several other area law enforcement agencies to discuss strategies to stem freeway shootings and Detroit Police Chief James White said an upgraded camera system is one direction authorities could take. 

“We need cameras now that have higher resolution and are able to pick up a little bit more detail of vehicles trying to escape,” White said during a press briefing ahead of a closed-door meeting between the police agencies at Detroit Public Safety Headquarters downtown. “We’d want to cover those (freeway) entry points and exits.

“We do think there’s an opportunity to make some advances and catch these perpetrators,” White added. 

Existing cameras on area freeways aren’t high resolution and, according to White, were installed simply to monitor traffic flow. White said among the technical limitations, authorities aren’t able to make out specific make and model type details of vehicles.

The department, under White, looked into the idea of using the controversial Project Green Light program on the freeways in the city, but White said those plans ultimately fell through. Green Light is a system that offers businesses an opportunity to install highly visible green lights and high-definition surveillance cameras that feed into the Police Department’s Real Time Crime Center.

“Realistically because it’s a public private partnership… It was a difficult proposition,” he said. “It was a little bit ambitious on my part.”

White said even if Detroit’s department gets access to higher quality freeway cameras, they would only be used to fight part one violent crimes, which includes fatal and non-fatal shootings. 

“Nobody’s looking to write a ticket for speeding if we put better cameras on the freeways,” he said. “We’re talking about cameras that can save lives if someone uses a weapon on a freeway, which puts every single person, every family at risk in every community, not just Detroit.”

According to the department, there were 24 shootings on freeways in the Detroit area last year, and 22 of those shootings happened inside the city. 

After two-year-old Brison Christian was shot and killed on Interstate 75 last year, White said the department and other law enforcement agencies knew they had to step up freeway patrolling. 

“What really is causing it to happen more frequently on freeways is the ease of escape,” he said. “When you’re driving 70 or 80 miles an hour on the freeway and you hear a gunshot, you don’t necessarily stop, pause, and get the vehicle make or get the plate number. You go into a mode of self preservation.”

After the toddler’s shooting death, White launched Operation Brison, an initiative that called for a more visible presence on Metro Detroit freeways from several police departments.

DPD has committed seven scouts from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m. daily on the freeways within the city while other agencies like the Michigan State Police, the Wayne County Sheriff’s Department, Southfield Police Department and others also are lending a hand. 

William Ratliff, the chief of police for the city of Inkster, said Operation Brison has boosted communication between all of the law enforcement agencies in the area. 

“This operation has spurred regional cooperation among law enforcement agencies in this area on a level that’s unprecedented,” Ratliff said. 

That cooperation, he stressed, is especially important for smaller departments outside the city. 

“There are resources in (the Detroit Police Department) that some of us may not utilize or may not even know about,” Ratliff said. 

Elvin Barren, who spent 21 years with DPD, is now chief of police in Southfield. Barren said DPD is always willing to lend its resources and expertise to other departments.

“I know … without hesitation, I get the support that I need (from White),” he said. 

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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