By now, word has spread about the false arrest of Porcha Woodruff, a Black woman who was accused of carjacking at eight months pregnant in Detroit. Woodruff was the victim of faulty facial recognition technology that misidentified her and a Detroit Police Department that refused to back down when it had so obviously mistaken her identity. Woodruff was arrested in the morning as she got her two young daughters ready for school, traumatizing the children who were forced to see their mother put in handcuffs and taken from the house. DPD further endangered Woodruff by detaining her at eight months pregnant without adequate consideration of her condition. Woodruff began having contractions while detained and had to go to the hospital immediately after being released on bond.
Woodruff is the first woman that we know of to be misidentified by facial recognition software. All other cases are also people of color. Experts have pointed out the fact that mistaken identity is built into the software, which has always worked less effectively when it comes to people of color. The Detroit Justice Center has condemned the use of this technology from its inception due in large part to its faulty nature. We know that even if it were effective 100% of the time, facial recognition would be used disproportionately against Black and brown Detroiters by nature of racial bias in policing and incarceration. Technology like facial recognition software, Shotspotter and license plate readers are being used in Detroit as substitutes for solutions that get at root causes of harm and crime. Instead of investing in community based care, we are continuously told that the solution is investing tax dollars and ARPA funds into inefficient technologies that further the surveillance of Detroiters.
We will be paying close attention to Ms. Woodruff’s case as it progresses, and we’re sure facial recognition will continue to perpetuate mistaken identity arrests. Instead of acknowledging the harm they’d done, the Wayne County prosecutor dropped the case a month after making their arrest with no apology to Woodruff or her family. We support Woodruff taking legal action against the city. We know that it won’t dissolve the use of facial recognition software, but it will set a precedent for how much it will cost the city to make these kind of mistakes in the future.