GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Greater Grand Rapids branch of the NAACP says the Grand Rapids Housing Commission should formally commit to not using facial recognition technology at public housing in the city.

“We’re using all these cameras and we’re basing really important and serious decisions off of the information we’re receiving from cameras,” Carlton T. Mayers II, the special public safety advisor for the Greater Grand Rapids Branch of the NAACP, said Thursday. “But where are the guardrails to make sure this is not being misused and abused?”

This week, a Washington Post investigation named Grand Rapids as one of six cities where housing commissions used facial recognition cameras to identify anyone who walks by them. But the Grand Rapids Housing Commission said it’s not using facial recognition. On Thursday, it forwarded News 8 an email claiming that the characterization in the Post article was based on preliminary discussions about the technology that never came to fruition.

“We were just beginning the installation of the new/additional cameras and there were still lots of unknown variables,” housing commission Executive Director Lindsey Reames wrote to The Post.

She added that The Post said it would check in with the commission before the article was published, but didn’t.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s website shows the agency gave the Grand Rapids Housing Commission a nearly $250,000 grant in 2021 to buy surveillance cameras for Adams Park Apartments, low-income housing on Fuller Avenue.

In an email to News 8 Wednesday, Reames acknowledged IndigoVision cameras were put in place in March but denied the cameras are being or will be used for facial recognition. She told News 8 that though the cameras can have the ability to recognize faces, they currently do not have the necessary software for facial recognition.

“While the IndigoVision cameras do have facial recognition technology, GRHC has not installed the software to analyze the video feeds for the facial recognition option,” Reames wrote to The Post, echoing what she told News 8 Wednesday. “We don’t need facial recognition for people who reside in our buildings.”

She said the cameras — but not facial recognition — are used to investigate lease and policy violations and provided to law enforcement in criminal investigations.

The Greater Grand Rapids NAACP opposes facial recognition technology, citing a breach in privacy plus a disproportionate impact on Black people. A federal study published in 2019 found that facial recognition technology was up to 100 times more likely to produce a false positive for Black people and Asian people than for white men. Women were also more likely to be misidentified than men.

“There have been several studies done over the years that have shown it doesn’t work well, especially when it comes to identifying Black people in particular,” Mayers said. “Facial recognition technology is notorious for misidentifying Black people. This is why when law enforcement has been using it, there’s been a lot of pushback. Because how do you know if you’re arresting somebody who actually committed the crime when it’s a Black person and you’re relying on facial technology to give you that information?”

While Reames insisted Wednesday the housing commission won’t use facial recognition, Greater Grand Rapids NAACP President Cle Jackson says the housing commission should have a written policy stating that.

“We have to be very careful when we are using these types of surveillance tools to address tenant violations and evictions,” Jackson said.

Jackson said the NAACP “fully believes in safety” but also wants to protect individual rights.

“We will always fight for the protections of civil rights and civil liberties,” he said. “You’ve got to be very careful because you’re dealing with people’s lives.”

“What’s disturbing to me is this technology being used for very low-level offenses with respect to these rules at these housing complexes,” Jackson added.

Mayers said the city should ban any of its departments from using facial recognition. To make that happen, the NAACP is working on proposing changes to the city’s policy governing purchase acquisition use and the deployment of surveillance equipment and services.

“I do believe having a policy in place that prohibits facial recognition technology so that way the statement that was provided by GR Housing Commission is actually accurate,” Mayers said. “That we are not going to use this technology.”

Mayers worries if that doesn’t happen it could be used by the housing commission in the future.

“Even though they may not be okay with using facial recognition technology, they’re not going to be in that role forever,” he said. “Somebody else is going to take over that position and they might have a vastly different perspective on that matter.”

He also stressed that people living in public housing need to be a part of the conversation.

“They need to be informed on what exactly is going on,” he said. “I think that’s the biggest question to ask right now: How many of those current existing residents are actually knowledgeable these cameras exist and these cameras have facial recognition technology even if it’s not being utilized?”