Streetlight Detroit

Hi again,

Happy August, y’all. We’re almost done with this ungodly season and into the best season. (Fall is one of the only times I like living in Michigan.) We’ve got a lighter issue for you this week amid peak vacation season, but fear not, I still wrangled the best in public safety news for you. We’re talking surveillance technology lawsuits, a dubious study about the accuracy of another police technology (you probably know it as ShotSpotter) and scams galore. 

Also in the mix, the Detroit Police Department (DPD) is adding 11 new positions for mental health police responders on DPD’s Crisis Intervention Team, which responds to mental health calls. We’re interested to see what impact this effort has — studies are mixed, but some suggest certain community policing strategies could play a role in reducing some types of crime and increase trust in police. Like many interventions, it could come down to implementation.

Another initiative that has caught our attention is the Ann Arbor Police Department employing artificial intelligence to monitor police interactions with citizens by automatically analyzing body camera footage for unprofessional behavior. What do you think — does that sound overambitious or does it give you hope for greater accountability? Hit my inbox:

Safe travels,

P.S. Speaking of peak vacation season, the next two editions of Streetlight will be curated by guest editors. Stay tuned to see who’s in the driver’s seat next time.

»the count

add up these numbers

From 2020-2022, 103 bicyclists were killed in Michigan, up 64% from the previous three-year period, according to Michigan State Police. A number of law enforcement agencies across the state, including DPD, will be focused on enforcing Michigan’s bicycle safety laws during Bicyclist Safety Enforcement Week, which runs through Sunday.

»in these streets

speed through key safety news

Wrong face: A third Detroiter arrested due to a faulty facial recognition match has filed a federal lawsuit (paywalled) against the city and the detective assigned to her case. Porcha Woodruff was eight months pregnant when she was arrested in February at her home, even though the suspect in the carjacking and robbery two weeks earlier did not appear pregnant. DPD has since announced it will be strengthening its photo lineup and facial recognition technology policies. In the U.S., six people have been falsely arrested based on facial recognition. All of them were Black, and half were arrested in Detroit. (Detroit Free Press, Michigan Radio)

Quality monitoring: Residents have scooped up generators to deal with lengthy blackouts thanks to a string of damaging weather events in southeast Michigan, but they emit harmful pollutants right next to people’s homes. Speaking of pollutants, Wayne County announced a three-year air quality project that includes installing 100 new stationary air monitors and giving 500 mobile monitors to vulnerable people (including older adults and asthmatic people) to track pollutants and warn residents of poor air quality. (Planet Detroit, Michigan Radio)

Spot on? An internal report conducted by SoundThinking Inc. (formerly ShotSpotter Inc.), the company that runs a controversial gunshot identification technology in Detroit, found that at least 99.5% of its alerts were accurate. Activists and police oversight officials remain skeptical of the technology, which places audio sensors around the city to alert when and where gunshots occur, saying the findings can’t be trusted without independent verification. (BridgeDetroit)

Shutoffs on again: Water shutoffs are expected to resume next week for Detroiters who owe more than $5,000 and are not enrolled in a payment plan, after a moratorium on shutoffs that lasted more than three years. Service interruptions will begin with customers in areas where middle- and high-income earners live, based on U.S. Census data. Residents enrolled in the Lifeline Plan, an assistance program based on income, are exempt from next week’s shutoffs but could face interruptions if they fall behind on bills. (Freep)

»on the lookout

hot scams

Thick roll of one-dollar bills on a wooden mousetrap.
Photo credit: Alexander LieĂź/iStock

Americans were scammed out of $8.8 billion last year, a 30% increase in reported consumer losses, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). In Detroit, where budget-friendly transportation is a persistent challenge, those trying to secure reliable transportation can run into sketchy practices including the five common used car scams: lowballing, title washing, odometer rollbacks, curbstoning and VIN cloning.

This summer, several scams came onto state Attorney General Dana Nessel’s radar. Her office has issued warnings about scammers posing as security system door-to-door salespeople, placing malicious QR code stickers at businesses, sending debt collection letters purporting to be from state agencies, and calling residents to threaten fines or jail time for missed jury duty. She also alerted new high school graduates to watch out for scams as they seek employment and housing.

Scams are among us, hitting when we least expect it. Just this week, the FTC warned residents about a scam soliciting payment for unordered COVID-19 tests delivered to victims’ doors. “Smishing” scams — text messages designed to trick you into sharing personal data or making a payment — are nothing new, but messages mimicking package delivery updates from the USPS and other carriers are on the rise. And it’s easy to see how you could fall for a DTE Energy scam that’s popped up in recent years where fraudsters use look-alike phone numbers to impersonate the utility and threaten victims with power disconnection unless they pay. That means you can’t trust DTE’s name on your caller ID

No matter the method, it’s important to do research before signing any legal paperwork. Be sure to look for official letterhead and call the government body before taking action, especially if the correspondence asks for immediate payment. Remember, if it looks suspicious, do some research before proceeding.

“Do your research” is pretty sound advice for other transactions, too. The person fixing your toilet or leading your kid’s summer camp probably isn’t trying to walk off with your savings — people are mostly good, after all — but a little digging might help you feel confident about who you’re hiring. For professions that require state certifications, you can do a free license lookup on the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs site to make sure an individual or business has an active license. You can also see disciplinary history in some cases. You might be surprised by how many jobs require licenses: your barber, your child care center, your midwife, your marriage therapist, your massage therapist, your home appraiser, your boxing referee… the list goes on. 

If you believe you’ve been a victim of a scam, you can contact the state’s Consumer Protection Team at 877-765-8388 or complete the online complaint form. You can also sign up to receive alerts on the latest scams going around.

»BOPC watch

keep an eye on Detroit’s police oversight body

The DPD investigator in the case of Porcha Woodruff, the woman suing for wrongful arrest after she was mistakenly identified with facial recognition technology, is under an internal investigation by the department, Chief James White announced in Thursday’s Board of Police Commissioners meeting. White said DPD would give a thorough presentation to the board in the next 45 days detailing exactly what went wrong in the case. If the investigation identifies officer misconduct, it will then be up to the board to determine disciplinary measures, he said. 

Commissioners are also dealing with the fallout from investigations in their own house. Two BOPC employees will continue to be on paid leave after a failed attempt to terminate them. The board discussed removing staffers Melanie White and Lawrence Akbar, who have been on paid leave for more than five months, but failed to come to an agreement at its Aug. 3 meeting. White and Akbar were placed on paid leave in March amid multiple criminal and administrative investigations into the board.

A vote to remove White failed 4-4, and a motion wasn’t even made to move forward with removing Akbar. Board Chair QuanTez Pressley said that paying them for this long without any work is an irresponsible use of taxpayer money; however, other commissioners defended the employees by saying that there is no evidence for them to be fired, and that the board should wait until the investigations conclude. Under the Detroit City Charter, the board has the authority to appoint and remove individuals as necessary, according to the city’s top lawyer.

Some commissioners called for the discussion to be taken to closed session before bringing it back to the public meeting. The board parliamentarian was not present at the meeting to clarify legal terms or whether the board could discuss firing matters publicly. 

This project is brought to you by BridgeDetroit, Chalkbeat Detroit, Detroit Free Press, Detroit Metro Times, Michigan Radio, Planet Detroit, WDET 101.9 FM, WXYZ-TV and Outlier Media/Detroit Documenters.

This edition was written by Outlier Media’s Miriam Marini, SaMya Overall, Noah Kincade, Kate Abbey-Lambertz, Malak Silmi and Aaron Mondry.

Miriam (she/her) is a strong believer that journalism should hold leaders accountable and serve as a platform for marginalized groups. She can often be found at The Congregation — usually with a hot mocha in hand and finding an outlet to charge her dying laptop.