Video: Detroit police commissioner arrested during meeting on facial recognition

July 12, 2019, 12:01 AM by  Violet Ikonomova

A Detroit police commissioner was on Thursday handcuffed and removed from a tense commission meeting to discuss a proposed policy to guide the department’s future use of facial recognition technology.

Commissioner Willie Burton — an outspoken critic of Police Chief James Craig — was reportedly pulled from the meeting at the direction of new chairwoman Lisa Carter. Burton had asked Carter if she would take a different approach than her predecessor Willie Bell, an ally of the mayor whom Burton believes has failed in his oversight role.

Carter told Burton he was out of order several times before requesting he be removed.

This is the second time this week that an outspoken official or activist has been handcuffed and pulled from a public meeting in Detroit. On Tuesday, water rights activist Meeko Williams was arrested for disorderly conduct at a meeting of the Detroit Charter Revision Commission after refusing orders to quiet down. He's called the arrest a violation of his First Amendment rights.

Detroit activists spoke out against Burton's arrest on social media.

"Apartheid Detroit is on simmer," Abrihet Queen wrote on Facebook.

Burton, she said, was removed simply for "voicing his view, after being recognized by the chair, because she didn't like what was he was saying."

John Bennett, a former Detroit police officer, said he "wrap my head around what we are doing as a city and government."

"It's one thing to arrest a disruptive person in the audience but we are now locking up elected officials we disagree with," said Bennett. "This is beyond disturbing and we need to get a grip."

Activist Sam Riddle, meanwhile, applauded Burton for "speaking truth to democracy destroyers."

The facial recognition technology debate Burton was kept out of will be shelved until at least next week as Craig continues to make adjustments to the draft policy.

Detroit police say they've been using standalone facial recognition technology on still images for a year. They're currently guided by a "standard operating procedure" that, based on responses to Freedom of Information Act requests, was not put in place until just this spring.

The department has not answered questions from Deadline Detroit on why it may have been using the technology for months with no written rules in place. It's also unclear why it took a year for a formal policy proposal to go before the commission.

Craig has said facial recognition will only be used on still images in the investigation of violent crimes. He's said it will only be used with video in the event of a credible terror threat.

Critics of the technology fear it will lead to wrongful arrests and disproportionately harm communities of color. The technology has been shown to misidentify black people at a much higher rate than white people.

Progressive cities like San Francisco have banned the facial recognition. A proposed five-year ban was just introduced the Michigan House. Federal lawmakers including Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) have also questioned the use of the technology.

According to a newly published academic report, Detroit and Chicago are the only major cities where its used by local police.

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