The Long Beach Police Department could soon have easier access to a large network of security cameras now that it’s partnered with the doorbell camera company Ring, joining more than 400 police agencies across the country who have done the same.
Ring, which is owned by Amazon, is best known for its small, rectangular doorbells with a motion-activated all-seeing camera lens and a glowing button. The camera captures video of anyone who approaches the door, from package thieves to Girl Scouts trying to sell cookies.
It can alert the user in real-time whenever it activates. And video can be quickly and easily uploaded to a neighborhood-based social-networking sight called Neighbors
In August, Long Beach signed a no-cost agreement with Ring: The company will provide its Neighbors App to residents and the department free of charge (it’s already free in app stores) and police can use the app to request videos from residents and post information to make people aware of critical incidents.
Access to the app will save the department time, according to Lt. Joe Gaynor from the LBPD Investigations Bureau. It could provide a shortcut for detectives asking residents for footage of a crime.
“It really breaks down to an efficiency thing where, prior to this, if we were doing an investigation in the field, we would have to go to each individual resident and knock on their door and ask if they would be willing to share their video,” Gaynor said.
Privacy advocates have concerns about Ring’s growing omnipresence coupled with its relationships with hundreds of police departments, according to a recent article in the Washington Post: “the program could threaten civil liberties, turn residents into informants, and subject innocent people, including those who Ring users have flagged as ‘suspicious,’ to greater surveillance and potential risk.”
But Gaynor and a Ring spokesperson emphasized they have to get a resident’s permission to get their video. Police do not get ongoing access or the ability to tap into live video feeds, Gaynor said.
“Ring’s mission is to make neighborhoods safer,” a Ring spokesperson said. “… We are proud to have partnerships with many law enforcement agencies across the country and have taken care to design these partnerships in a way that keeps users in control.”
Gaynor said that the idea of the partnership came about because of cases involving package thefts and home robberies.
“I see it being used in property crimes—which is what I focus on—recovering the items, getting the suspect ID’d who committed the crime,” Gaynor said.
The partnership is still in its infancy and officers haven’t yet been trained in the equipment and processes they will use to request footage, he said. Because of that, it is still unclear how exactly the LBPD will word requests or if it will specify the crime being investigated, according to Gaynor.
Ring’s Frequently Asked Questions page on its website sheds some light on what the requests could look like: “When making a video request to Ring, law enforcement must reference a relevant case, and can only request video recordings within a limited time and area.”
It also notes that residents can decide whether to share all videos relevant to the case, select which videos to share, decline, or opt-out of getting requests in the future. The LBPD will not be able to see the user’s account information or device location unless the user shares a video with them.
“We’ve always asked for video,” Gaynor said. “Video is a great tool to help us solve crimes, so if it saves my detectives from having to knock on doors for a couple hours when they could be getting video and actively looking for a suspect, I see it as being a lot more efficient.”
Gaynor added that residents don’t have to own a Ring camera to access or upload footage to the Neighbors App. And, there is no incentive program—at least through the LBPD—to push residents to buy Ring cameras, he said.
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