Red Light, Green Light, When You Need A Cop In Detroit

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.


40 comments on “Red Light, Green Light, When You Need A Cop In Detroit

  1. PseudonymousKid

    Dear Papa,

    Project Green Light is expanding to meet the needs of the expanding Project Green Light. A racket is too much already, why not throw in some high-tech horror too. So Detroit?


  2. Skink

    There are a zillion comments to that article. Nearly all decry the added cost, compare the program to a mob shakedown or just say dumb stuff. Not one questions the collection of facial recognition data on all people in the store or the plan to pay the government to constantly monitor and save what happens on private property. Not one person! The article links to an October article discussing the software and monitoring. There is a single comment, and it questions, however briefly, how the data will be used.

    Facial recognition recognition software is very flawed, sort of like Windows 2000. But the government is collecting faces. According to the secondary article, Michigan alone has a database of more than 40 million faces. Only one person questioned the use.

    I’m telling you, we will give up every one of our most sacred rights without a fight. We will do it because we will run out of people that recognize a rights grab and call bullshit. We need Capt. Kirk. He always called bullshit.*

    *Star Trek V–“Excuse me, what does God need with a starship?”

    1. SHG Post author

      Money talks, but facial recognition is the future that will come back to haunt us. And nobody gives a shit. They’re going to sneak this into the Minority Report while everyone is bitching about the price of the racket, until one day we’re all in the database and can’t figure out why the SWAT team has surrounded our house because we bear a similar appearance to some killer.

  3. jbcwv


    … Your affiant knows from training and experience that retail establishments that elect not to participate in the Green Light program are often involved in the trade of illicit materials, including controlled substances, firearms, and obscenity …

  4. Brian Cowles

    I know the bit about the dogs was supposed to be a throwaway line this time around, but…damn, Petco is screwed.

    1. Patrick Maupin

      PetSmart may be ahead with its Banfield partnership, but Petco has seen the writing on the wall and is preparing for the coming pup-pocalypse. The up-and-coming conspiracy between pet stores and the police may turn out to be even more remunerative than the one between the tire manufacturers and the pothole purveyors.

  5. Jim Tyre

    Think the worst nightmare of net neutrality meets the aspirational “protect and serve.“

    I fear that some of your readers may not understand this net neutrality of which you speak. Fortunately, Burger King explains it.

      1. B. McLeod

        I don’t think there is an actual “right” to a whopper. Even at press conferences where they give them out for free. You have to have “credentials” to get into the press conference, and you have to be recognized from the podium to ask a question, and it is only after you ask the question that you get the whopper.

        1. Skink

          It’s in the air. But if there is, you can bet a bunch of people would surrender it if BK agreed not to sell fish sandwiches, because “save the fishes.”

  6. Black Bellamy

    Back in the old days, if you didn’t pay the fire department they would happily stand by and let your house burn to the ground while they took care of your neighbor, who was up on his dues.

    Why do people hate the good old days? They were so good.

      1. B. McLeod

        This was true in 18th Century Charleston, SC. Building owners received special plates to display on the front of their buildings to show they were paid up. In modern U.S. urban centers, the fire departments are supported by general taxes instead of the old “fire insurance” model.

            1. Billy Bob

              He didn’t mean it; he just said it. But you rolled over like a lamb in heat. Baaah. Never resemble a remark without a search warrant; just re-assemble. You’ll be better off.
              Remarks are like sharks.
              Porn stars and dominatrixes
              Employ them for larks.
              Time now for laxatives and a good back rub.
              (Haiku You.)

  7. Jyjon

    The wonderful thing about Project Green Light is that the Dealers and Pimps can just connect to the police’s system and watch their runners and ho’s in real time without having to leave the crib. Why didn’t the mob think of this, just shows that innovation in crime comes from unexpected places.

    1. KP

      Of course all the people who are up to no good will pay.. its just part of the Bronze level protection racket they have now with the cops!

      The Silver level includes not having the cameras connected to anything..

      ..and the Gold level has the FBI losing all the data for you.

      The comment about the SWAT teams coming in knowing that facial recognition is foolproof is worrying. It will be more sure than fingerprints or DNA, because ‘I saw it with my on eyes’. I expect the authorities have software to tweak an image & make sure it looks just like the person they want to nail for that crime!

    1. B. McLeod

      They exist in places inside police departments and jails, and occasionally, lawyers get ahold of them as Brady material or even in civil discovery. On rare occasions they have even proved that a defendant was telling the truth about an officer passing out an unprovoked beating. It is a good idea to know enough about a facility so that you know where the cameras are, because that will give you a notion whether, in a specific case, you ought to be pressing specifically for the production of video.

  8. That Anonymous Coward

    Pay no attention to the fact that there is a SINGLE green light partner in the downtown area they are revitalizing. (It appears to be an apartment building, so it is probably to discourage undesirables from hanging around)
    It would be wrong to suggest that they patrol downtown with all of its venues & boutiques so much more than the rest of the city they’ve ignored for years.
    Just because the response time to a shooting can be 2 hours, is no reason to think that people who pay more deserve more.
    Millions of dollars in renovations & expansions, yet that 98 yr old woman who is the last hold out in a block thats crumbled has a better chance of being saved by neighbors before the cops arrive on the scene.
    They have that people mover thing & that new Q line that goes all of a couple blocks that makes it all futuristic & safe.
    Who knows they might even manage to finally get all of the street lights fixed by 2020. If they don’t have to keep fixing problems they neglected until the media reports on it and makes them look bad. Disabled people trapped in a high rise because both elevators went out, residents call, email, mail… media reports & suddenly it is the first they heard of it…. despite an 80+ yr old wheelchair bound woman having been trapped in her home for a week.

    The cameras are to make people feel safer going into and coming out of the city, so they have to be priority 1 locations. If people saw how long it took them to show up to someone shot in the middle of the street they might worry about their safety.

  9. Bryan Burroughs

    Dumb question, but wouldn’t there be admissibility issues with evidence gleaned from HD cameras installed by the police in private establishments throughout the entire city?

    I know we don’t give a shit about the 4th Amendment any more, but that one would seem to fly in the face of it worse than most.

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