Project Green Light and the School to Prison Pipeline

Project Green Light is going to put every Detroit Public School student into a police database. I think this is a problem.

Project Green Light (PGLD), according to their website, “is the first public-private-community partnership of its kind, blending a mix of real-time crime-fighting and community policing aimed at improving neighborhood safety, promoting the revitalization and growth of local businesses, and strengthening DPD’s efforts to deter, identify, and solve crime.” I’ve previously discussed why the program, particularly the live-surveillance component, is a fraud. With the addition of facial recognition technology, it’s now also part of the school to prison pipeline.

Here’s the background. On October 2, 2017, I filed a request under the Michigan Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to see Specifications or standards for the Project Green Light integrated security system relating to the ability to receive, monitor, and analyze video feeds from Project Green Light Detroit Partners, including specifically any zoom and facial recognition capability.  At the time, there had been no mention of facial recognition capabilities in the press, but it seemed like the kind of natural intrusion DPD would go for.

On October 20, 2017, the City gave its reply: “Based on information provided by DPD personnel, it is our understanding that the City is currently in negotiations with Data Works Plus LLC to provide the City with facial recognition capability. Therefore, the City does not have a signed or executed copy of the contract at this time.

On October 30, 2017, local news outlets covered the announcement that Project Green Light would be adding facial recognition capabilities.

On April 3, 2018, it was announced that the Phillip C. Randolph Career Technical Education (CTE) School had become the first school to partner with the Detroit Police Department on Project Green Light.  There are also plans to expand the program to other schools.

To appreciate the full extent of the problem, you have to understand a bit about how facial recognition technology works. In general, facial recognition technology, like any biometric technology (fingerprinting, retina scanning), works by detecting features of an unknown person and then comparing them to features of known persons in an existing database.  However, since we know the company that is providing the technology for Project Green Light, there is no need to speak in generalities. Let’s take a look at Data Works Plus, LLC and their facial recognition technology services.

According to its website, Data Works Plus’ system for monitoring video works as follows:

FACE Watch Plus provides continuous screening and monitoring of live video streams. Probes extracted from video frames are used to screen the database for potential matches. When a match occurs, users are able to view the probe image from the video at the same time as the match. Agencies can customize what data is available for the matched image from the watch list database….Your agency can create a watch list database that includes images and information about persons of interest or wanted individuals.   

Personally, this is enough to make me angry. Do we really want to expose every child in Detroit public schools to this? But ok, let’s assume you’re more trusting then I am, consider these facts:

  1. Gender and skin complexion have a huge impact on the accuracy of virtually all facial recognition systems. “Overall, male subjects were more accurately classified than female subjects replicating previous findings, and lighter subjects were more accurately classified than darker individuals.” When the person in the photo is a white man, the software is right 99 percent of the time.  But the darker the skin, the more errors arise — up to nearly 35 percent for images of darker skinned women.
    You can read more about this here.
  2. We don’t know what database the city is using. When asked about the DPD policies on the inclusion of individuals in the database, DPD Chief Craig responded, “DPD does not maintain a facial recognition database.” Maybe, but there is a database somewhere.
  3. Since we know there is a database somewhere – after all, that’s how the system works – where is it?
  4. Who controls it?
  5. Who gets in it?
  6. How long do they stay in it?

Basically, Project Green Light is fingerprinting everyone who walks in front of one of its cameras.

Do we really want this is in Detroit Public Schools? Do you see the problem here? The City of Detroit is taking video of primarily black and brown kids and making it available to the police for virtual mugshots. And the technology is known to be inaccurate for black and brown skin! Seriously? Are we really doing this? And, as I’ve pointed out before (and as Chief Craig admits) there is no evidence at all that Project Green Light reduces crime.

They don’t do this in the ‘burbs and predominantly White schools. Kids in Detroit are already subjected to metal detectors and random searches and police stations in the school. Do you really think Detroit kids use drugs more often than their suburban counterparts? What do you think sweeps of suburban schools would find?  The disparity between White and Black incarceration rates is directly related to how the communities are policed. Project Green Light takes this to a whole new level. Thanks to technology, the School-to-Prison Pipeline is about to get a whole lot more effective.

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