A condescending Chief Craig breaks silence about Detroit's facial-recognition technology

click to enlarge Detroit Police Chief James Craig. - Steve Neavling
Steve Neavling
Detroit Police Chief James Craig.

Detroit Police Chief James Craig finally broke his silence Thursday about the city secretly using facial-recognition technology for the past two years, castigating the media for asking questions about privacy rights and flaws in the system.

Condescending and irritated, the chief showed little concern about the serious constitutional issues that have been raised by legal experts and the unreliability of the evolving technology, especially when used on people of color.

When asked how the police department balances privacy rights with solving crimes, the chief defensively responded, "How come we never talk about the criminals?"

The nearly one-hour press conference came hours before the Board of Police Commissioners plans to approve expanding the facial-recognition technology to cameras being installed at intersections. Police Commissioner Willie Burton, one of the few opponents of the technology, has called for a public hearing to gather input before using a technology that some cities are banning. A majority of the commission declined to hold a hearing.

But Congress is a lot more skeptical about the technology and is considering a temporary ban on the technology because of concerns that it violates the Fourth and 14th amendments and is prone to errors. A U.K. study found that the technology has a 91-percent error rate. In 2018, civil liberties group Big Brother Watch found that the technology leads to the wrong person nine times out of 10.

Craig said the department will detain people solely based on the technology because it constitutes "reasonable suspicion" that someone committed a crime. The chief said he doesn't know how many false matches were made in Detroit and could only say that "several" people have been arrested because of the technology.

When Craig was asked about concerns of over-policing, he responded, "Let's talk to members of communities with violent crime."

"This is about keeping people who live, work, and play in Detroit safe," Craig said.

Mayor Mike Duggan, who is also behind the technology, has declined to comment, distancing himself from the controversy.

Detroit's $1-million face-scanning system enables police to identify and track residents captured on hundreds of private and public high-definition cameras installed at parks, schools, immigration centers, gas stations, churches, abortion clinics, hotels, apartments, fast-food restaurants, and addiction treatment centers. Police can identify people at any time using databases containing hundreds of thousands of photos, including mug shots, driver's licenses, and images scraped from social media.

Without public hearings or announcements, the Detroit Police Department integrated the facial-recognition technology with the city's Project Green Light, an initiative that began in 2016 with surveillance cameras at late-night locations like gas stations and fast-food restaurants. It has since expanded to include parks, schools, health clinics, hotels, apartments, lower-income housing, and churches. There are now more than 500 Green Light locations.

Live updates from Thursday's meeting will be tweeted.

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Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling is an award-winning investigative journalist who operated Motor City Muckraker, an online news site devoted to exposing abuses of power and holding public officials accountable. Neavling also hosted Muckraker Report on 910AM from September 2017 to July 2018. Before launching Motor City Muckraker,...
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