It was once a joke to suggest that cops carry a credit card reader on their belt, performing cash and carry law enforcement. So cynical. So ridiculous. So . . . Detroit.
An irate customer who was upset about the price of an item started trashing a northwest Detroit Marathon gas station last month, prompting manager Sadek Kaid to dial 911.
When the police didn’t respond after several minutes, Kaid said he hit redial and asked why.
“The dispatcher said, ‘It’s because you don’t have the Green Light,’ ” Kaid said.
Think the worst nightmare of net neutrality meets the aspirational “protect and serve.“
Businesses pay between $4,000 and $6,000 to join Project Green Light, a program that allows police to monitor businesses’ video surveillance feeds in real time. The cost covers installation of high-definition cameras and lighting. There also is a monthly fee of up to $150 for cloud-based video storage.
In exchange, participating companies are given Priority 1 status on police dispatches — but some business owners who don’t participate feel they’re being treated like secondary citizens.
According to the cops, it’s not that businesses in Detroit get ignored if they don’t pony up the cash to buy Priority 1 status. Rather, they get the service they would otherwise get as valued members of the Detroit family. It just happens that the service sucks. But good service, like faster download speeds or enough legroom for a rhesus monkey on an airplane, is a mere few thousand away.
Police Chief James Craig insisted officers are not neglecting non-Green Light businesses, adding the delay in responding to the calls from Kaid and Nagi was “concerning.”
“With crimes in progress, we should have responded quickly whether they were Green Light locations or not,” Craig said.
“If you don’t sign up for Green Light, we’re not going to ignore you, but we do expect if you don’t join the program, you should have a relationship with the neighborhood police officers, because it’s their job to work on quality-of-life and crime issues for all businesses, Green Light or not,” Craig said.
This “shift,” as Chief Craig explains it, isn’t about treating the businesses that don’t pay the vig any more poorly than they would be treated otherwise. Of course, how they would be treated without the program is pretty much the point. So if you want Priority 1, you pay to be priority one. Otherwise, you don’t get “neglected,” but treated like anyone else. Like crap.
And the program is proving so successful, at least for Detroit raking in the money, that it plans to expand it to all businesses that serve the public and are open after 10:00 p.m.
The Detroit News reported in June that city officials are considering making Green Light mandatory for all businesses that serve the public and are open after 10 p.m., although Mayor Mike Duggan said last week that likely won’t be implemented until at least 2019.
But what of those businesses that take issue with having to pay to play?
When told some business owners feel they’re being slighted because they already pay taxes and shouldn’t have to pay extra for prompt police response, Duggan said: “I’m not getting that.
The level of enthusiasm is so high,” he said. “Our resistance comes almost entirely from people who appear to have a relationship with the people up to no good in their parking lots.”
Reminiscent of the old saw that anyone who refuses to consent to a search has something to hide, the only businesses who would take issue with paying cops extra for protection are the ones up to something dirty. You “already pay taxes” and shouldn’t have to give the cops “protection” money? Then you’re probably a drug dealer, right? And they’ll have their eyes on you, dude.
But participation in the program isn’t just a matter of paying extra to get a cop to show when you need one. While that may be the most problematic aspect for business owners who aren’t getting filthy rich off their throngs of customers, there’s a second prong of the deal as well, the installation of hi-def cameras hooked into the police feed.
The News reported in October that Detroit police plan to integrate facial recognition software into the Green Light program, although officials insist it will only be used to investigate violent crimes.
“This is about creating safe places in our neighborhoods,” Craig said. “Why does someone get an alarm on their house in a neighborhood where they already have private patrols? It’s an extra layer of protection. That’s what Green Light is.”
What business doesn’t want to contribute to creating safe places in their neighborhoods, just like paranoid homeowners? While the requirement for cameras is, aside from cost, likely the sort of thing a business finds useful, since it’s no skin off their nose if their customers end up on a feed to the cops, facial recognition isn’t usually the sort of things customers expect to buy when they go to a bar or gas station.
So will business owners in Detroit refuse to participate in this program because it puts their customer’s mugs on the cops’ screens?
“With Green Light, it’s like they’re making us pay extra taxes for something we should be getting anyway,” Nagi said. “Why are those businesses Priority 1? I want to be Priority 1, too.”
No businessman likes the idea of spending the money his business exists to make on police protection they are already paying for in taxes. Then again, it may well be the case that Detroit cops were so bad in responding before that businesses at risk are willing to pay up to get a cop there when they need one. But they couldn’t care less that their customers’ faces are recognized via their hi-def camera feed.
If only the cops came up with a plan to pay extra to get them to not shoot your dog when they arrive, they would really be rolling in the dough.