On a sunny, September evening, about two dozen people were holding signs and marching at a gas station on the corner of Eight Mile Road and Gratiot Avenue in the Regent Park neighborhood of Detroit. The crowd consisted of members from Mohican Regent Residents Association, MAN Network Community Patrol, Black Family Development, and the Regent Park Community Association.
“So today is our fifth time marching on this particular business, this Gulf gas station, to encourage the owners to become a part of the Green Light Project here in the city,” said Tonya Wall of Regent Park.
Project Green Light is an initiative between area businesses and the Detroit Police Department. It started nearly two year ago, in January 2016, with eight gas stations. You now see the program’s flashing green lights all over town. About 200 locations participate, including fast food restaurants, grocery stores and even apartment buildings. The belief that the program reduces crime has led to a number of community groups demanding businesses in their neighborhoods take part.
“We just want a safer establishment, well lit, with the cameras to cut down on some of the drug activities and loitering around in the areas,” said Wall, as she stood in front of the Gulf gas station that has a Subway inside. “I would think as a business owner I would want my patrons to be safe.”
When businesses sign up for the program they have to meet lighting requirements and either buy or rent high definition security cameras that feed to Detroit Police. The camera footage is monitored at the department’s downtown headquarters in an area called the Real Time Crime Center.
Captain Kari Sloan oversees the crime intelligence unit that the Real Time Crime Center supports. The goal is to use the footage that comes in to help make arrests after crimes occur, said Sloan.
“We just recently had an armed robbery at a business. They were able to immediately pull up the camera feed to that business, pull off a license plate from the vehicle, identify who was driving the vehicle and push that information right out to the street,” Sloan explained.
Some businesses have criticized the program for failing to stop crimes in progress. In a WDIV TV story, one Green Light merchant revealed footage of his gas station being robbed two nights in a row. Staff at the Real Time Crime Center confirmed that they watched the video as the crimes occurred but police officers did not intervene.
Commander Marlon Wilson works on a team that supports operations for Project Green Light. He said the main goal of the program is not only to make arrests using the footage but to prevent crime from occurring in the first place. And, he said, that’s what’s happening.
“You look at our first eight locations, we’ve reduced violent crime by 50 percent. Overall I think we’re at 13 percent across the board at our 200 locations,” said Wilson. “It’s a very effective tool. Every detective in the Detroit police department is using it. So, it’s successful at this point.”
MAP: Eight Original Green Light Locations
WDET’s analysis confirms Project Green Light has been successful at reducing violent crimes in the eight original locations.
Yet, eight locations is an incredibly small sample size, so it’s hard to draw conclusions about Green Light’s impact city-wide. That’s why WDET has submitted a Freedom of Information Act requesting the implementation dates of the other Green Light businesses so that we can analyze the data for all of them. This request has not yet been fulfilled.
Regardless, some residents are demanding that businesses join Project Green Light in their neighborhoods.
At the Fall protest, one of the organizers, Derek Blackman, project director for the social services group Black Family Development, called three community leaders, one of them Tonya Wall of Regent Park, to the front of the group. Through a megaphone, he called to the representatives, “We’ve got the official Green Light application from the city of Detroit. So, you all wanna go in?”
The group of three strode into the gas station, Green Light application in hand.
Inside, they asked two clerks, standing behind bullet-proof glass, if the owner was in. One of the workers said that the owner wasn’t, but he wrote down the owner’s number on the back of a lottery ticket.
“Okay, I’ll take the number,” Wall said with exasperation. “We’ve been here before. They know what we’re asking them to do which is to become a part of the Green Light Project.”
Still inside the gas station, one of the community leaders put his phone on speaker and dialed the owner’s number. But he just got the voicemail.
Later, WDET reached the gas station owner – “Sam” or Mustafa Saleh Ahmed – on the phone.
Ahmed said he has actually been participating in Project Green Light at a second gas station he owns in northwest Detroit for around eight months. And he said he can tell the green light there is making a difference.
“It’s good. We got more old folks come in. Young folks doesn’t hang out a lot. And it brings down the problems. So, it did help,” Ahmed said.
But he thinks the program is too expensive.
“I pay them almost $5,000, for the Green Light… for all the cameras, for all the system and stuff. But, it should be cheaper than this. We’re not supposed to pay this much,” said Ahmed.
According to prices listed on the Green Light website, $5,200 is the minimum estimated cost if businesses want to purchase their own equipment. That includes the cost of required signs and lighting, plus the money to buy and install camera equipment. Businesses save a little money up front if they choose to rent rather than buy the cameras. But after two years of renting, merchants end up spending more than if they had initially purchased the equipment.
Nonetheless, Ahmed said he found a guy who will give him a deal on buying the set up. So, he said he’s applied for the program at his eastside gas station but is waiting to hear back from the city.
Meanwhile, residents of Regent Park and other nearby neighborhoods say they won’t give up until they see a green light at the 8 Mile Road and Gratiot Avenue station they’ve protested at a handful of times. Because, when that happens, they believe the corner business will become a safer place. And as a result, so will their community.
Last June, Detroit City Councilman Andre Spivey told the Detroit News he was working to draft an ordinance that would make signing up for Project Green Light mandatory for all businesses open in Detroit past 10 p.m.. Nothing official has been announced since then.