Detroit Police Now Banned From Solely Using Facial Recognition To Arrest Suspects

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Detroit's Police Department has been banned from relying on facial recognition results alone to conduct arrests or lineups (i.e. identity parade). It's not an outright ban on the technology, but now requires the DPD conduct actual investigative processes on top of that. This comes following the fallout from the city having to settle with Robert Williams, a man arrested and thrown in jail due to incorrect facial recognition identification.

In January 2020, Robert Williams, a black man in Farmington Hills, Michigan, was confronted and arrested by the DPD in his front yard. He was placed in jail and later told that he was accused of stealing designer watches from a store. During his questioning, Williams was told by detectives that he was arrested strictly based on results from a facial recognition lineup, with no other proof.of his accused actions.

Prior to his arrest, facial recognition tech identified Williams' driver's license photo as a possible match for the theft suspect, which the DPD then used to create a photo lineup. According to its post-settlement announcement, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) says that facial recognition is flawed technology and has a tendency to misidentified people of color. In fact, the DPD has at least made two other wrongful arrests using the tech alone—one of a Detroit woman, Porcha Woodruff, who was eight months pregnant accused of robbery and carjacking, as well as Michael Oliver who was accused of property damage. Both were, you guessed it, apprehended when DPD solely relied on facial recognition technology (FRT) results.

Within the settlement agreement, the city states that any "FRT lead, combined with a lineup identification, may never be a sufficient basis for seeking an arrest warrant" whereby those investigating need to ensure that "further independent and reliable evidence linking a suspect to a crime." The agreement also stipulates that the DPD will undergo renewed training on addressing racial bias affecting FRT accuracy rates, plus audit all cases involving facial recognition arrests beginning in 2017.

Note that this restriction isn't a complete ban of FRT. The settlement also only allows the court to enforce the agreement for four years. What happens beyond that is anyone's guess, but the ACLU hopes that this policy change will encourage other cities and states to adopt new rules to reduce their reliance on facial recognition in replacement of good, old detective work.