Detroit police chief defends Project Greenlight after DOJ calls it ineffective

Department of Justice researchers recently said that two Detroit police programs designed to curb crime, Project Greenlight and Ceasefire, don't do enough.

"There’s no surprise here at all. It’s exactly what people in the city have been saying for four years since this program was up and running," said Eric Williams, with the Detroit Justice Center. "Part of me wants to say, ‘I told you so.’ The other part of me is looking forward and saying what is the response? Does DPD double down on this? Do they find fault with the study?"

Detroit Police Chief James White did find a fault with the study – it used data from when the program was new.

"The dataset that they used in this analysis was from 2016 to 2018, so that’s the first two years of Project Greenlight’s inception. It doesn’t take into account the expansion of real-time crime center, the expansion of Greenlight. I think 2016, 2018 we had about 200, we got over 800 now," he said.

The DOJ's research arm, the National Institute of Justice, said Project Greenlight doesn't have a broader impact on preventing crime but did say that it found a 27% reduction in property crime after the first year it started.

"Often times when you see a decrease in property crime you do see a decrease in other crime as well. Some property crimes lead to violent crimes. Somebody’s trying to steal somebody’s car, they see them sometimes shootouts can happen," White said.

The chief also noted that Project Greenlight has helped investigators solve crimes.

Critics of the program say the cost to businesses and taxpayers outweigh the benefits, though.

"I just hope that DPD takes this as a lesson and simply says, rather than being defensive says, ‘This was an experiment we tried it. It isn’t working. Let’s look at other ways to provide public safety,’" Williams said.

Tawana Petty, with the Detroit Digital Justice Coalition, said in a statement that "we have been sounding the alarm for years that surveillance is not safety. We know what makes communities safer. We know that communities that are disinvested in tend to be less safe. Now that we have more data proving what many of us have been saying and disproving law enforcement's theory, it's time we moved away from mass surveillance as a solution."

Researchers also panned the effectiveness of Ceasefire Detroit, which aims to reduce gun violence. Outreach workers build relationships with gang members and affiliates whose parole or probation orders require them to participate in a call-in where they meet face-to-face with White, U.S. Attorney Dawn Ison, and Mayor Mike Duggan. They’re offered a helping hand to leave the streets and get on the straight and narrow or face the full force of Detroit cops and federal agents.

The study found that those who attend the call-ins have a 29% lower likelihood of being arrested and a 47% lower chance of being arrested for violent crimes.

"Our Safer Detroit initiative that we’re rolling out now involves expanding Ceasefire and touching those groups that are not in the room. For the people in the room, it’s an impactful program. I’m not surprised by the findings that the people not in that room are not seeing the decrease in violence that others are. We have to figure out a way to expand our reach before people make the decision to commit some violent act or get involved in a shooting," White said.