FPI / October 2, 2019
Detroit Police Chief James Craig said it was “insulting” and “racist” for socialist Rep. Rashida Tlaib to insist that only black people should be employed on the department’s facial recognition team.
Tlaib, Michigan Democrat, said during a Sept. 30 tour of Detroit’s Real Time Crime Center that the team operating the department’s facial recognition software should have only blacks because “non-African Americans think African-Americans all look the same.”
According to an Oct. 1 report by The Detroit News, Craig “said several members of his staff, black and white, told him after Monday's meeting they were outraged by Tlaib’s remarks.”
“It’s insulting,” Craig said. “We have a diverse group of crime analysts, and what she said — that non-whites should not work in that capacity because they think all black people look alike — is a slap in the face to all the men and women in the crime center.”
Craig said all officers and civilian employees go through mandatory implicit bias training.
“That’s something we train for, and it’s valuable training, but to say people should be barred from working somewhere because of their skin color? That’s racist.”
A spokesperson for Tlaib said the member of the socialist “squad” of first-year Congress members was trying to convey the importance of accurately identifying black suspects in a city with an African American population of about 80 percent, the Detroit News reported.
Police officials invited Tlaib to the facility inside Public Safety Headquarters to see how Detroit uses facial recognition software, after she criticized the technology in an Aug. 20 tweet in which she wrote: "@detroitpolice You should probably rethink this whole facial recognition bull----."
Tlaib attempted to explain her contention that non-blacks think all blacks look alike by saying: “I’ve seen it even on the House floor: People calling Elijah Cummings 'John Lewis,' and John Lewis 'Elijah Cummings,' and they’re totally different people. I see it all the time, and I love them because they go along with it.”
Craig replied: “I trust people who are trained, regardless of race; regardless of gender. It’s about the training.”
“I know,” Tlaib answered. “But it does make a huge difference with the analysts."
After the tour, when a reporter asked whether she meant white people weren't qualified to work in the crime center, Tlaib said: “No, I think there has actually been studies out that it’s hard for — African Americans would identify African Americans, or Latinos, same thing.”
Tlaib then was asked whether that means non-whites should be barred from working as crime analysts in mostly white communities. She replied: “Look it up.”
The Detroit City Council in July 2017 unanimously approved $1 million to purchase the facial recognition software from DataWorks Plus of Greenville, South Carolina, the Detroit News noted.
During her tour of the crime center, the Detroit News reported that “Tlaib repeatedly expressed concern that the technology flags an inordinate number of darker-skinned people and raised privacy fears, saying she was ‘taken aback’ during recent congressional meetings on the subject.”
"Even my Republican colleagues were very concerned about facial recognition, because all this information in databases offers no protections for our residents," Tlaib said.
"We don’t disagree with the concerns," Craig said. "If you'd be patient with me and let me go through this.”
Craig showed a photo of a black woman whose mugshot was mistakenly flagged after a photo of a black male shooting suspect was fed into the computer.
The chief started to explain the next steps in the process, but Tlaib cut in: “We know it’s close to a 60 percent error rate because it doesn’t identify black people; you know that, Chief. Chief, the error rate among African Americans, especially women, 60 percent."
"I understand the technology," Craig said. "That's why I’m taking you through it personally."
"I know," Tlaib said. "Just see if you can get some of our money back before we fix it."
“No,” Craig replied.
Tlaib then asked whether a facial identification hit is ever the sole evidence used to bring charges against someone, and Craig told her no.
“A match is a tool only,” Craig said.
Craig went on to tell Tlaib that after the software misidentified the woman, crime analysis supervisor Andrew Rutebuka saw it wasn’t a match and moved on to other photos.
Rutebuka then put an old police mugshot on the screen, which he said did match the suspect, 21-year-old Davevion Dawson, who is awaiting trial on felonious assault and weapons charges.
“That’s him,” Rutebuka said.
Tlaib responded: “How do you know? You can’t say it’s him; it’s allegedly him. That’s the lawyer talk in me. It’s his life we’re talking about.”
"Let me stop you right there," Craig interjected. "It's his life, but guess who else’s life? The victim’s. We never talk about the victims. What about that victim's rights? What about the family of the victim? What about their justice?"
"Do you guys have witnesses as well?" Tlaib asked.
"Yes," Craig said.
"The warrant wasn't issued solely based on this, was it?" Tlaib asked.
Craig sighed. "No, it wasn’t," he said. "Work with me. Work with me."
After the presentation, Tlaib was asked if any of her concerns were allayed. "No, I mean … we’ve got to make sure that it’s not expanded … on public housing … these are where people live, and it would be very dehumanizing to have surveillance at your own … home."
Tlaib in July joined Democratic Reps. Yvette D. Clarke and Ayanna Pressley in filing the “No Biometric Barriers Housing Act of 2019,” which would prohibit the use of facial recognition technology in most federally funded public housing.
Free Press International