For a guy recently re-elected by a large margin, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan is surprisingly unpopular beyond Downtown. You don’t have to go far or listen hard to hear the complaints. He’s not a Detroiter. He’s corrupt. He’s giving away the city to his pals. He’s White. He only cares about Downtown. I have my own set of gripes, but there is one area where I’m willing to give him a pass, or at least the benefit of the doubt: #ProjectGreenLight.
This is probably surprising to many. Anyone remotely familiar with my social media output of late knows I really detest Project Green Light (PGL). I don’t object to better lighting and increased police presence; I object to the 24/7 live video feeds to DPD. They aren’t any better than systems that just record, they are just more expensive. See here and here and here and here. The Mayor, as most know, is PGL’s third biggest fan, right behind Detroit Police Chief Craig and, collectively, Comcast shareholders.* The Mayor mentions it frequently and PGL’s “success” is among his greatest hits talking points. In fact, the frightening prospect of an ordinance mandating participation in PGL originated in the Mayor’s office.**
But…(deep breath)…here’s the thing; no matter how much one dislikes the Mayor or his policies, doubts his motives or disagrees with his vision of Detroit, you have to acknowledge he wants a safer city. Not even the most cynical critic can rationally argue that Mayor Duggan wants crime to go up. (One can irrationally argue anything.) The problem of course, is that PGL doesn’t do anything to make Detroit safer. In fact, PGL arguably makes the city less safe by diverting human resources and attention to an ineffective program and away from programs that do work. (Imagine instead of watching cameras those officers were on the street.) Which leads to an interesting question: Why does Mayor Duggan so strongly support Project Green Light?
I can’t read the Mayor’s mind, but I have a theory: The Mayor really believes Project Green Light works. Consider, his Chief of Police, a man who has been in charge during a prolonged period of crime reduction, has repeatedly said he “believes” it works.*** Project Green Light also has the backing of some influential businesses and doesn’t directly cost the city anything at a time when fiscal responsibility is a high priority. (We all want State oversight ended.) On top of that, intuitively, it just feels like live surveillance cameras should reduce crime more than simply recording what’s going on. (They don’t. Really.)
If these seem like flimsy arguments to earn the trust of a man normally credit as a critical thinker by supporters and critics alike, it is probably because the Mayor likes big, high-profile, easily marketed programs. And it’s easy to understand why. Detroit still lacks the resources to do the grimy, day-to-day stuff that is the heart of municipal governance. But grand gestures? Those are the kinds of things that corporations are willing to put their money and prestige behind. When you look at Downtown, the basic services of government – transportation, maintaining public spaces, security – are being provided by private entities or public-private partnerships. It’s a horrible approach for a lot of reasons, but when you’re broke all you have are horrible options. The big gestures also advance the narrative that things are changing fast in New Detroit.
I recognize both the need to change the narrative (though “New Detroit” makes me nauseous) and find ways to pay for government services. While neither of those needs justify bad policies, they do go a long way towards explaining why bad policies – like Project Green Light – popup in Coleman A. Young Municipal Center from time to time. I have little hope that the Mayor will change his mind on his own and stop promoting Project Green Light as an effective crime fighting tool, but I’m praying the City Council will ask the hard questions before moving on an ordinance to make participation in PGL mandatory. And given his reputation, I really believe once confronted with the facts, the Mayor will ease away from Project Green Light. So I’m giving him a break. For now.
*Here’s the math: 500 PGL participants x $150/month fee x 12 months = $900,000 a year, with virtually no marketing costs. The city wants to expand the program to include all businesses open after 10:00 pm, “schools, retail, food service establishments, multi-family dwellings, and mixed-use developments.” Comcast wants to expand it nation-wide. You do the math on this one.
** For the record, such an ordinance would be all sorts of unconstitutional. And if you think, “How? There’s no reasonable expectation of privacy” then you need to stop watching CSI or whatever. That’s the standard for a non-trespassory search, not the relevant standard in this case.
*** I’ll leave how much credit he might actually deserve for that drop for another post.