Detroit Police Commissioner Arrested For Questioning City’s Use Of Facial Recognition

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Above Photo: Jonathan McIntosh/Flickr

Last night, a police commissioner in Detroit was arrested for questioning the city’s use of facial recognition at a public hearing.

Commissioner Willie Burton, who is black, was surrounded by police officers and handcuffed from his place at the head of the meeting on Thursday night, shouting “get your hands off me!” as he was taken out of the room with hands behind his back and put into a police car. He was questioning the police department’s use of facial recognition known to be biased against people of color, in a city with a high proportion of black residents.

It’s part of a renewed debate this week on facial recognition technology in Detroit, where the New York Times reported on activists criticizing the city’s use of the tech given its problems: The data used is pulled from Michigan’s 50 million drivers licenses, personal information that is accessed without a warrant and with no consent. The program also allows for police officers to use facial recognition not just on criminal suspects, but on anyone with a “reasonable suspicion” they might assist in solving a crime.

The controversy has so far resulted in a call at the state level to ban facial recognition throughout Michigan for five years. It would be the first state in the country to do so.

It also follows growing momentum nationwide, where different cities and states have already put bans in place or are considering banning the technology. San Francisco and Somerville, Massachusetts, were the first two cities in the country to ban the tech, but Oakland, Berkeley are considering bans, and Massachusetts and California are considering severely limiting facial recognition’s use.

Congress members from both parties have called the technology dangerous — both Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jim Jordan are against it — and even Axon Corporation, the maker of tasers and body cameras, says it will not commercialize it because it cannot ensure its ethical use.

Fight for the Future this week launched a campaign calling for a federal ban on facial recognition. If we rely on piecemeal regulations at the city and state level, this technology will proliferate beyond our control.

  • Alienate

    Who arrests a police chief? The mayor? If so, that mayor needs to be arrested. Or recalled.


    There is no reason why people cannot get arrested- if they must- and then be released on bond without charge. They will still have to appear at a court date. The bond BUSINESS is a thieving, scavenging trick by all municipalities to milk more and more money out of people who are OFTEN INNOCENT AND OFTEN POOR. In this regard, I live in Fresno, CA, and poor people who gather cans out of dumpsters for recycling are liable for a 250 dollar fine- another example of thieving, scavenging municipalities. Im talking about homeless people who will go to jail if they don’t pay up. Disgusting.

  • D Turgeon

    Well I hope Mr. Burton sues their asses off. He should also pursue a criminal action of assault and false detention. It is amazing the extent and speed to which the U.S. is becoming a full-blown police state. When the civilian authority over the police is overturned by the police themselves, the writing is on the wall.

  • chetdude

    Last I heard, the facial recognition “technology” that’s available (one of the main sources, very “White” Israel) does a lousy job with accurately recognizing African-American and Latinx faces…

    Would you bet YOUR freedom on technology like this?

  • DonRice

    So he’s arrested for doing his job? WTF????

  • MrRedwoodGuy .

    The noose around the public head is tightening.

  • Ort

    Well, it’s a good thing that Commissioner Burton shouted “Get your hands off me!”

    If he’d shouted “I can’t breathe!” the facial recognition controversy would’ve been postponed until after his funeral.