Kent Police have a new crime-fighting tool in neighborhoods because of a partnership with doorbell camera maker Ring.
Under the arrangement agreed to in January, police can request videos from the Amazon-owned Ring security owners about crimes that happened in their neighborhood. Users of Ring’s Neighbors app can get real-time crime and safety alerts from their neighbors and Kent Police.
“We are launching a new program that we hope will be one part community engagement but also a big part crime fighting,” said Kent Police Chief Rafael Padilla when he announced the new partnership last month to the City Council.
Ring has partnerships with more than 400 police agencies across the nation, according to the Washington Post. Ring updates an interactive map when it partners with a police agency. The map shows Clarkston as the only other Washington city in the program. Albany, Oregon City and Eugene are among Oregon cities that partner with Ring.
“Whenever we have an issue, particularly with a violent crime where officers and detectives do what we call canvassing to the community, where they knock on doors and ask if they have a video, …it takes a long time and is very labor intense,” Padilla said.
“With this, we can send out an email and say we had this incident are there any videos out there for us.”
Padilla knows they are concerns about privacy issues.
“Neighbors can opt in, get an email from Ring from Kent Police that we are looking for help in this incident and if they have video they can upload,” Padilla said. “Kent Police is not actively watching or monitoring to keep tabs on neighborhoods. They can opt in case by case. They can tell us no. It is completely voluntary.”
Others believe police agencies are going a step too far.
Evan Greer, deputy director of the Massachusetts-based digital rights group Fight for the Future, wrote an opinion piece for nbcnews.com that people should “not buy Amazon Ring cameras because of the clear threat that they pose to all of our privacy, safety and security. …Talk to your family and friends and encourage them to do their research before putting any private company’s surveillance devices on your door or in your home,” Greer said. “In the end, companies like Amazon and Google don’t care about keeping our communities safe; they care about making money.”
Padilla said the department decided to partner with Ring, whose doorbell camera systems start at about $99, after a handful of residents asked about Kent joining the program.
“Ring is the first to offer this type of free service to law enforcement agencies across the country,” Padilla said in an email. “We believe we owe it to our community to continue seeking out innovative ways to address crime and keep our community safe. If private companies can provide cost-effective or free services that help us in that effort, we will certainly do our research and consider the opportunity.”
The police chief said the partnership doesn’t mean Kent favors Ring over other security companies.
“We are always mindful that we aren’t establishing special relationships that either compromise the integrity of the department/city or provide an unfair business advantage to a specific company,” he said. “In this partnership specifically, Ring has provided us a portal to reach out to the community and obtain potential evidence to help us investigate crimes. It’s not dissimilar to some of the outreach we already do through social media outlets.”
Kent Police last month posted to Facebook about the partnership with Ring.
“This could prove especially helpful with residential burglaries, vehicle prowls, vehicle thefts and mail/package thefts,” police said. “Your privacy is important to us. Officers will not have direct access to user’s cameras or devices through the Neighbors portal or through Ring. Officers must first make the request through Ring, referencing a relevant case and then request footage within a limited area and time. Users have the choice to provide the information or not. Direct contact between Kent PD and the user will not happen until the user has agreed to share the video.”
A Ring spokesperson sent the following email, from its Santa Monica, California headquarters, in response to questions from the Kent Reporter about the new partnership.
“Ring’s mission is to make neighborhoods safer,” according to the spokesperson. “We work towards this mission in a number of ways, including allowing local police to share official, important crime and safety updates with their residents through the free Neighbors app. Ring has designed the Neighbors app in a way that upholds our user privacy standards and keeps residents in control. We’ve seen many positive examples of residents and local police engaging on the Neighbors app and believe open communication is an important step in building safer, stronger communities.”
Ring explains on its website how law enforcement uses the Neighbors app. Ring posted an example of how a Virginia Beach family was able to quickly recover stolen medical supplies for their diabetic child after sharing a video of the package theft on the app.
People don’t need to own a Ring device to download the Neighbors app, which is free and requires a valid address and email.
Others don’t support the Ring camera system. A Mississippi family is suing Ring after someone hacked into their camera system and taunted their 8-year-old daughter, according to NBC’s today.com.
Padilla expects the partnership to be a benefit. He said detectives tracked down Ring camera video that helped in at least two cases over the past two years.
In 2018, Ring video recorded the suspect in a homicide dumping evidence down a storm drain. Detectives were later able to go and recover the evidence.
Last year, Ring video aided detectives in identifying a suspect who had broken into a woman’s condominium, armed with handgun, Padilla said. When the officers arrived to investigat
e the suspect, who was hiding in a closet, attacked the officers and after a brief struggle managed to run out of the condo.
“Our detectives canvassed the neighboring condos and located Ring video that recorded the suspect fleeing the scene,” Padilla said. “The video led to the eventual identification and
arrest of the suspect.”
Those are reasons Padilla expects a good outcome to joining Ring.
“We look forward to our partnership with the Neighbors app by Ring,” Padilla said. “Anytime we can enhance tools and technology to work further with residents, businesses and neighborhoods, we make our community safer.”