The Detroit City Council has voted to extend its facial recognition contract with DataWorks Plus. The measure passed by a 6-3 vote, and will allow the Detroit Police Department (DPD) to continue to use facial recognition technology in its investigations until September of 2022.
The decision has drawn the ire of privacy advocates, both inside and outside the police department. In that regard, the local watchdog Detroit Will Breathe organized a caravan to drive past the home of Councilman Andre Spivey to protest the use of facial recognition, though Spivey still went on to vote in favor of the motion.
However, the response from within the DPD has been somewhat unique. While law enforcement agencies all over the world have generally argued for the expanded use of facial recognition, opinion seems to be split among Detroit police. Willie Bell, the Chairman of the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners (BOPC), came out in support of the motion, but Detroit Police Commissioner Willie Burton believes that the move will exacerbate the contentious relationship between the DPD and the city of Detroit.
“We don’t want to see Detroit City Council in support of a right-wing agenda on militarizing the police,” Burton said. “Facial recognition falls right in line with the Republican agenda of law and order. I am surprised to see a left-wing, Democratic City Council support a right-wing agenda like facial recognition technology in one of America’s poorest, Blackest cities.”
Like other privacy advocates, Burton was particularly worried about the potential for racial bias. Nearly 80 percent of Detroit’s population is Black, and the technology in the DataWorks system was part of an independent study that found that facial recognition tech falsely identified Black and Asian faces 10 to 100 times more frequently than white ones. The DPD has already made two false arrests based on false matches, in incidents that drew national headlines and forced the department to change its protocols for suspects identified with facial recognition.
To that end, the police must now submit evidence to Prosecutor Kym Worthy for approval before filing charges. They are also required to have corroborating evidence to support the match, although that was the case in the past and that policy was not followed in at least one of the false arrests. Both of the individuals arrested were Black men.
“It doesn’t matter that DPD has a policy regarding how they use facial recognition,” said Commissioner Darryl Brown. “If the software is inaccurate, that policy is not going to help you.”
Burton sits with Bell on the BOPC, which is the civilian oversight board for the DPD. Burton and Brown had hoped that the city would ban facial recognition tech, while Burton now plans to ask Bell to resign his position as the Chairman of the BOPC.
The DataWorks Plus contract is worth $220,000. According to the DPD, it has used facial recognition 106 times in 2020, generating 64 matches that ultimately led to 12 arrests.
Source: Detroit Free Press
October 1, 2020 – by Eric Weiss