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Detroit police plan facial recognition policy changes after false arrest lawsuit

Detroit police plan facial recognition policy changes after false arrest lawsuit
Detroit police plan facial recognition policy changes after false arrest lawsuit 02:46

(CBS DETROIT) - The Detroit Police Department will be changing its policies surrounding the use of facial recognition technology in police lineups. The changes come on the heels of a lawsuit filed against the department.

In the lawsuit, Porcha Woodruff claimed she was falsely arrested for robbery and carjacking because of facial recognition technology.

Detroit Police Chief James White said the false arrest was not a failure of facial recognition technology but was the result of a poor investigation.

"In retrospect, it seems clear that while the victim's ID seemed conclusive, the victim had identified what equated to a look alike. And I have looked at those photos myself, and very clearly, they look alike."

Woodruff's arrest stemmed from a carjacking on Jan. 29, 2023. White said the male victim picked up an unknown woman in the area of East Seven Mile and Hoover Street. He then drove the woman to the area of Gratiot and Bestmore.

At that point, the woman got into a black Tahoe, and a male with a handgun got out of the Tahoe and stole the victim's vehicle and cellphone.

The phone was later tracked to a BP gas station at 6420 Van Dyke. Police looked at the security video from the gas station and saw the suspect who left the phone there. They took an image from the video and ran the photo through facial recognition software. 

White said that was in line with their policies because they were investigating a violent felony.

"The technology yielded an investigative lead. Which is exactly what it's supposed to do. In fact, in this instance, it produced 73 possibilities of who the suspect was," he said.

White said the technology worked, but investigators failed. Woodruff's photo was one of the 73, and before investigating her further, police included her photo in a lineup that was presented to the carjacking victim.

"This would be no different if we took a mug book, a paper mug book like the old days. And took a picture out and went out and said, 'Is this the person?' and you said 'Yes' and we arrested them. That would be improper. The same is true here," said White.

He said facial recognition technology searches through mugshots and driver's license photos for similarities. Then police must rule out suspects who aren't the gender or race of the suspect. And also rule out those who didn't have the opportunity or capability to commit the crime.

"In 2023, there is enough technology, beyond facial recognition, to determine if a person was near the crime scene," White said. "I can determine with phone towers, everyone's got a phone in their pocket. Were you near there? Were you at work? I can check and pull work records to check and see if you were, in fact, at work. None of those things occurred. They have to occur in this instance."

White said if police investigated further, they would have realized that Woodruff was eight months pregnant, and the carjacking suspect was not.

He said photos generated by the facial recognition system are not allowed to be used in lineups presented to victims.

"Members are to avoid the use of photos that so closely resemble the suspect that a person familiar with the suspect might find it difficult to distinguish the suspect from other individuals presented in the lineup," he said.

He said the carjacking victim identified Woodruff as the suspect, and White said that identification carried some weight because the victim had spent time with the suspect in the car before the carjacking.

White recommended multiple policy changes to prevent the mistake from happening again, including an explicit ban on members using any facial recognition-derived images in photographic lineups.

Moving forward, DPD will also require all photo lineups to include a sequential double-blind investigation

"Instead of putting six people at one time on a piece of paper and showing it to you. What we will do is put six photos in an envelope. We will take the first envelope, hand it to you, you pull the photo out, and we will say, 'Is that him or her?' It will be yes or no. And we will do that six times, in six individualized envelopes," said White.

In addition, investigators who know who the suspect is will not participate in the lineup. Instead, an uninvolved detective will provide the victim with the lineup.

"And that is just an added level of insulation so that there is no bias."

White said before photo lineups, supervisors must now ensure there is an independent basis for believing that the suspect pictured in the photo lineup has the means, ability, and opportunity to commit the crime.

The department is also putting in place a two-part review for arrests that used facial recognition in their investigations. Moving forward, when investigators believe they have enough evidence to make an arrest, they must present their case to their commanding officer and get it signed off on. Then it must be reviewed by a second captain before the arrest can be made or the warrant submitted.

The department has done a review of all of its facial recognition arrests from the past year and a half. They said in all of them, except the arrest of Woodruff, there was other independent evidence outside of the facial recognition, that led the officers to the arrests.

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