Michigan Man Sues Detroit Police Department After Wrongful Arrest Aided by Facial Recognition Software


A 43-year-old black man is suing the Detroit Police Department after he was wrongly arrested by the department’s facial recognition software and identified as a suspect of shoplifting, according to the Washington Post.

Robert Williams, father of two girls who live in the Detroit suburb of Farmington Hills, was arrested last year after he was accused of taking watches from a Shinola store. Cops used a facial recognition search of the store’s security camera footage that identified Williams as the culprit. Of course he wasn’t her type. Williams said he was driving home from work when the 2018 crime was committed. He was interrogated and held in prison for 30 hours before being released.

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Prosecutors dropped the charges two weeks later after admitting that they had insufficient evidence. DPD boss James Craig apologized for the arrest and said his detectives had done “lousy” investigative work.

Williams’ attorneys did not make him available for comment on the case, but he wrote in the Washington Post last year that the arrest rocked him, in part because his young daughters watched him be arrested in his driveway and into a police car was set after returning from work.

“How do you explain to two little girls that a computer did something wrong but the police heard it anyway?” he wrote. “Like any other black man, if I asked too many questions or showed my anger openly, I had to think about what could happen – even though I knew I had done nothing wrong.”

Research has shown that technology consistency misidentifies people of color. Williams’ case could help raise awareness of the use of facial recognition software that isn’t really that regulated.

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As the Post reports, the technology has many problems:

The accuracy of the software depends heavily on the image quality: blurry, grainy or dark photos often lead to poor results. But even the algorithms used in a face recognition search can offer a wide range of effectiveness: Several of the algorithms tested in a federal study from 2019 identified the face of a black or Asian person incorrectly up to 100 times more often than a white person.

Williams’ lawsuit is the second to accuse Detroit police of playing a fake facial recognition game: In September, a 26-year-old man named Michael Oliver sued the department, saying his 2019 false theft arrest included him brought to lose his job and spend three days in jail.

The same detective, Donald Bussa, investigated both Oliver and Williams and is named in both lawsuits. Craig criticized Bussa’s use of a “blurry” photo, saying the department was working to change the facial recognition guidelines that led to the arrest.

In a third lawsuit, filed in January, a man named Nijer Parks sued the New Jersey police and prosecutors. He was held in jail for ten days after being falsely accused of stealing from a hotel gift shop in 2019. All three cases are ongoing.

DPD Police Commissioner Craig said officers should not use facial recognition technology alone and that “in such cases there is a high likelihood that it will be misidentified,” he told a meeting of the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners last year, releasing reports.

Activists have long fought against police authorities using facial recognition software. Last year, IBM, Amazon and Microsoft said they would suspend or end sales of their facial recognition technology to police in the US after activists called them over because of the racism behind the technology and its harmful effects on policing, which is already disproportionately targeting people of color. had pressured.


Dusty Kennedy