Detroit police arrested a Black man from Farmington Hills for a crime he did not commit after investigators misidentified him using facial recognition technology.
It’s likely the first case of its kind in America. Robert Williams was accused of robbing a Shinola store last year after DPD’s facial recognition database matched his visage with a blurry security camera photo.
Turns out the software was wrong.
“Facial recognition technology is broken. It actually overwhelmingly misidentifies black and brown faces, so in itself it’s racist.” — Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib
Williams and the American Civil Liberties Union have filed a complaint with the Board of Police Commissioners, asking that the department stop using facial recognition to aid in criminal investigations. Mayor Mike Duggan says the technology is not definitive and should only be used to get leads for cases, blaming the arrest on poor policing. But he’d like city to continuing using the tool.
“It’s like saying that because a detective and a prosecutor made a mistake on the handling of DNA on a case, you should no longer use DNA,” Duggan says.
Detroit police do not publicly report how many cases have been solved use facial recognition tech. Detroit Police Chief James Craig supports the use of the technology.
But the technology has been controversial in the city since last year. A federal study found that Asian and African American people were up to 100 times more likely to be misidentified than white men.
Detroit Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib has introduced two bills to ban facial recognition tech, saying it’s flawed.
“Facial recognition technology is broken. It actually overwhelmingly misidentifies black and brown faces, so in itself it’s racist,” Tlaib says. “Even the ACLU nationally had taken members of congress and put them in the facial recognition technology and it misidentified my colleagues.”
Williams will have his arrest expunged but Detroit plans to continue to use the software.
Correction appended, 12:14 pm: This article mischaracterized the nature of Mr. William’s and the ACLU of Michigan’s request. It is a complaint filed with the Office of the Chief Investigator, housed within the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners. 101.9 WDET regrets the error.