Detroit has Project Green Light; two nearby cities to install flashing blue lights

George Hunter
The Detroit News
A blinking blue light has been installed at the Highland Park police ministation at the Model T Plaza in Highland Park. Ecorse and  Highland Park are implementing "Blue Light," a safety program similar to Project Green Light in Detroit.

Flashing green lights have become ubiquitous in Detroit, and soon two nearby communities will feature them in blue.

Highland Park and Ecorse are set to install blue lights in city businesses in an effort to duplicate Detroit's Project Green Light, a program Detroit police officials say has helped lower the city's crime rate.

A $175,000 state grant that targets financially distressed communities will help pay for 75 cameras in each city. The concept will be the same as Detroit, with flashing blue lights installed at gas stations, stores and other businesses equipped with video cameras which are monitored remotely, said Charles Lackey, Highland Park's director of technical services.

"We looked at Green Light in Detroit and took from the best of that program, and we've also added a few extra features," Lackey said.

"For instance, our cameras will be equipped with a public address system, so people at the scenes will be able to talk to our operators before the police get there. Operators will be able to tell someone to stay calm; that the police will be there soon, or they can get other information from the scene."

The program will also allow police officers to view the live video feeds on their squad car computers. Employees at a monitoring center that's set up in the basement of City Hall will also watch the video.

Lackey said Highland Park will monitor feeds from both Ecorse and Highland Park.

"It was our grant, but we added Ecorse because in my experience, it's easier to get these grants if you have multiple cities involved," Lackey said.

Ecorse police Chief Michael Moore added: "Highland Park is spearheading this. It'll be just like Green Light. I think it'll be a good program for both cities."

Detroit's program has not been without controversy since it was launched in 2016. Green Light participants are promised enhanced police patrols, although some merchants have complained that Green Light locations get more police attention than businesses that don't participate in the program. Police officials, however, insist that's not true.

Lackey said Highland Park's program won't have the enhanced patrol component, although, like Detroit's initiative, merchants will be required to have well-lit locations.

Detroit police officials say as of June 30, there was a 22 percent violent crime reduction in and around more than 550 participating Green Light businesses, compared the same period in 2015, the year before the program launched.

Bryce Peterson of the Urban Institute said it's difficult to attribute the crime drop solely to Green Light.

Despite the criticism, Detroit's program continues rapidly growing, with more than 150 businesses signing up since April 2018, according to city data.

Yon Lixey, owner of Sunrise Cleaners on Woodward in Highland Park, said she plans to sign up for the blue light program once it's implemented in her city.

"I've been here for more than 30 years, and had no problems until recently," she said. "People are painting (graffiti) on the walls; they did that three times.

"I saw on the news in Detroit they have a green light in gas stations and businesses, and people are happy about it," Lixey said. "So I think this will be good in our city. I was so happy when they told me about it, and I said I want to sign up for it."

Lackey said the city is accepting bids for contractors, which are due July 8. 

"We're trying to keep the prices low," Lackey said. "The majority of the grant money will go toward offsetting the costs for business owners when the system is installed. It'll cost about $2,000 to install."

There also will be monthly costs, although Lackey said those have not yet been determined.

Lackey said he hopes to have the monitoring center in the City Hall basement up and running within the next 35 days, with installations starting two weeks after that. 

Detroit police chief James Craig said his department has been approached by officials in other cities who want to emulate the Green Light program.

"You know what they say about imitation: It's the sincerest form of flattery," Craig said. "The program works, and other cities are starting to see it."