DETROIT – Project Green Light has been a huge success in helping police monitor crime by putting high-definition security cameras in Detroit businesses.
The project has grown exponentially over the past few years, but now there's a plan in the works that would take it even further.
A new ordinance would require any Detroit business open past 10 p.m. to be part of the Project Green Light program and pay the fees that come with it. Some people see the ordinance as a forced tax on their business.
Business owners would have to pay between $4,000 to $6,000 to become part of the program, and some said that's too much money. Many already have surveillance cameras installed.
Others believe business owners should be required to join Project Green Light to help the city prevent crime.
Paul's Pizza is a long-standing business in Southwest Detroit, and a newer partner in Project Green Light.
"It seems like as soon as we got it, everybody was, like, 'Alert, don't do anything bad around here,'" general manager Joshua Casias said.
The business is open after midnight and has been in the community for 55 years serving hand-tossed pizzas. Casias said he has noticed a decline in crime since installing the cameras. Casias said they paid $6,000 upfront, all for the potential mandate requiring other businesses to do the same.
"That one-time fee can save you a lifetime of headaches," Casias said.
He said it was weird at first to know you're constantly being watched by the Detroit Police Department, but has grown accustomed to it and appreciates the program.
"It makes it easier for them to do their job and keep an eye on things," Casias said. "You just go about your daily routine and you're not really doing anything wrong, you don't have anything to worry about, but if I was on the other end and I'm a criminal, I'd want to stay away."
But Besnik Hyseni, the owner of Colobo's Coney Island, which is open 24 hours, doesn't agree.
"Forcing businesses, I don't agree with it," Hyseni said. "Businesses shouldn't be forced to do that because some of them cannot afford it."
Their restaurant has eight surveillance cameras, which cost $3,000.
"If police are going to bring their own cameras here, and it's going to cost me one to two thousand plus a monthly fee, that's way too much for us," Hyseni said.
He's also concerned about if it's worth the money.
"If 200 businesses all have the program, how are the police going to monitor that?" he asked.
Detroit police Chief James Craig said he thinks the ordinance is fair.
"I think you've heard me say this from the beginning," Craig said. "I said be a good neighbor, and being a good neighbor is creating a safe environment for people who live in the neighborhood."
Local 4 legal expert Neil Rockind said it's not legal.
"You cannot, even if you have the very best of intentions, require businesses and business owners to expend money to install equipment that will inevitably invade their privacy and privacy of their customers," Rockind said. "This is an equivalent of a tax and it's an ongoing tax and it's a tax that business owners would have no option but to pay. Everything I've heard and has been said to me about this program stinks of an invasion of privacy and unconstitutionality."
Rockind referred to the program as "big brother."
"It appears to be an effort by the city of Detroit to engage in a 1984 big brother surveillance," he said.
The Detroit Police Department has recently worked with Comcast, which is now offering a program to help reduce the cost of the program. It would be a $995 down payment with a cost of about $140/month.
The proposal is currently being drafted by city council member, Andre Spivey, and is set to be before the council for a vote within the next few months.
Whether or not the ordinance passes is still up in the air, but some business owners said if it does pass, they will be forced to close at 10 p.m.
A lawyer said the ordinance could be legal if the city provides rebates on taxes or a write-off, but the fact that it's a mandate and not voluntary makes it problematic.