Photo: Jon Hewett / WWJ

Detroit Police Commissioner Arrested At Board Meeting

Public discussion centered on the department's use of facial recognition technology.

July 11, 2019 - 10:54 pm

DETROIT (WWJ) -- Tensions were high at the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners meeting Thursday night as an anticipated debate over the use of facial recognition technology by the city's police department sparked the arrest of one of the commissioners.

Commissioner Willie Burton was arrested for disorderly conduct shortly after the meeting began, as newly sworn-in board chair Lisa Carter ruled he was out of line as he went over his allotted speaking time and did not stop when he asked. Carter had just been sworn in as the night began and Burton began asking her what she would do differently that former chairman, Willie Bell.

The new chair told Burton several times he was out of order, but he continued to talk and Carter asked police officers to remove him. As they did so, the crowd became irate.

Ironically, the use of facial recognition technology by Detroit police was not even scheduled to be a part of Thursay's meeting, at the request of police chief James Craig.

But it was the focus of public comment, as many have been opposed to the technology in recent weeks. The board delayed a vote on the issue in late June as officials continued to discuss the policy. The department has used the technology for more than a year with the guidance of standard operating procedures.

Many critics of the technology say it violates constitutional rights and invades citizens' privacy. Craig explained the standalone technology is only used on still images captured on surveillance cameras across the city -- never in real-time. Critics continue to oppose the technology as the department decides what to do with it in the future.

"This is about keeping the people who live, work and play in the city safe," Craig said in June. "We don’t randomly use it. The only time we use it is to identify individuals who are involved in violence."

Critics of the technology say it is not always accurate, especially when used on people of color. 

Photo: Jon Hewett / WWJ
Multiple attendees at Thursday night's meeting wore masks in protest of the technology.

Burton's disruptive behavior did not sit well with many of the attendees, including Detroit resident Malik Shelton.

"How can the people of the city of Detroit have confidence in the Board of Police Commissioners when you sit there and allow one of your own members to be bum rushed and dragged out simply because they were speaking their mind," Shelton said.

In the end, the board tabled any action on the facial recognition technology. As for Burton, he was arraigned on a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct and posted bail.

Carter spoke with WWJ's Jon Hewett, saying she understands the community's concern regarding the technology.

"I understand that there’s a higher rate concerning black and brown individuals. I’m a brown person, my son’s black. I do have concern," she said.