After more than a year in the making, Highland Park’s Project Blue Light officially launched on January 15, 2021.
As part of the program, businesses can pay for special camera equipment that will feed surveillance footage directly into the city’s police department. Companies mark their participation in the project by displaying a flashing blue colored light on their building exterior.
According to Charles W. Lackey, III, the Director of Information Technology for the City of Highland Park, the city teamed up with Ecorse to apply for a Financially Distressed Cities grant to fund the project.
“These kinds of projects have popped up around, not only the United States of America, but the world. And more notably, in our big cousin city, the city of Detroit,” says Lackey. “We felt that our citizens should have the same kind of law enforcement assistive technology available.”
“Data-wise, there really wasn’t a whole lot out there when we decided to do Blue Light” —Charles W. Lackey III, Highland Park Director of Information Technology
Project Blue Light launched quietly in Ecorse back in November. Unlike in Highland Park, where the program is only available to businesses, in Ecorse, Project Blue Light is also available to housing units, churches, schools, and neighborhood associations.
“Ecorse is creating a new normal,” says Ecorse Public Safety Director Dr. Joseph Thomas, Jr. “We’re going to use technology to make sure criminals that come into our city are going to have a bad day.”
Thomas says if anyone in Ecorse would like more information about the program they can contact him at (313) 294-4015. More information about Project Blue Light in Highland Park can be found here.
Click on the audio player above to hear an interview with Highland Park’s Director of Information Technology about Project Blue Light
WDET’s Laura Herberg spoke with Highland Park’s Director of Information Technology, Charles W. Lackey, III, to learn more about Project Blue Light. Read an excerpt, edited for clarity, below:
Herberg: How much does the program cost for businesses to join?
Lackey: Typical costs will be about $2,000 for about four cameras, starting off.
How many businesses have signed on so far?
Right now, we have about 40 businesses that are interested in signing up. We do have two demo locations. One is Sunrise Cleaners, they’re on Woodward in Highland Park. The other one is the Ecorse Market on 19th and Visger. And Ecorse Police have actually used the system to make a few arrests, one felony drug arrest, just in this demo state. So, if you go by those locations you will see the flashing blue light and the cameras are up and the police are watching.
What’s the end goal?
We want to be able to prevent crime from happening. And, if crime happens, we want to be able to use the video or the media from the system to bring those individuals to justice that committed the crimes.
You mentioned earlier that there are jurisdictions around the country that have adopted similar projects. Of course, the one closest to home is Project Green Light in Detroit. Can you talk about what you learned from Project Green Light in deciding to move forward with Project Blue Light?
Project Green Light, I think is — you know, this is my personal opinion — I think Project Green Light’s a successful campaign in Detroit. I honestly, when I’m in Detroit, prefer to go to Project Green Light locations. So, being able to pioneer our own version of it, and be able to provide our citizens that same feeling of security when they’re at that location was a big driver for me personally. So, if you want to talk about inspiration, that’s certainly where it came from. And we’ve had actually, from the buzz that we got from launching Blue Light, we’ve actually had some departments, both in state and out of state, contact us on how we were structuring our program.
Were you able to look at some of the data with Project Green Light? How successful are these programs?
Data-wise, there really wasn’t a whole lot out there when we decided to do Blue Light. But, again, you got to go back to your common sense thinking. If you look at a security guard who works for a private company that watches cameras, they’re there for the same purpose. The reason that businesses have surveillance systems is to protect the business and to capture anything that may happen that that video may be used for. This is essentially the same thing, but now you’re having the police department, who’s able to see what’s happening in real-time and respond to it as these events occur. That’s a big deal.
Critics have expressed some concerns about surveillance leading to wrongful convictions. There was the high-profile incident of Farmington Hills resident, Robert Williams, being mistakenly tagged by Detroit Police Department’s software as a suspected shoplifter. How will you ensure that Blue Light doesn’t lead to wrongful convictions?
One thing that we’ve stood tall on is that we are not employing active facial recognition technology in our system. Not yet, and not in the foreseeable future. Not until that kind of technology’s been vetted. It has not been 100% vetted in which it can recognize all people of all different shades of color, or all different make-ups. It’s not there yet. So, with Project Blue Light, we don’t employ any kind of facial recognition in our systems whatsoever.
And, more importantly, I did follow the Detroit case. One of the things that Detroit Police Chief Craig talked about was that the system is supposed to be used to give you a clue of who it may be, but it’s not supposed to be used as the full evidence. I believe that Chief Craig made a statement that the investigators in that case did not do everything that they were supposed to do with using other evidentiary or investigative techniques to figure out if that was the guy or not. And obviously it ended up not being the guy. So, Project Blue Light, we won’t have that issue. We’re not employing facial recognition in our system.