A few weeks ago, a neighbor knocked on my door. “My windows were smashed last night, but nothing was stolen,” she explained, clearly stressed, “my Ring camera caught the crime on film, but I could not identify the man or see the vehicle he left in.”
She waited expectantly. Confused, I apologized, “I’m not sure what I can do to help.”
She motioned to my doorbell. “I see you have a Ring camera too. I was wondering if your camera happened to catch what the vehicle looked like.”
I pulled up my Ring app. Sure enough, my camera did capture a white truck pulling away from her house around the same time her camera had caught the crime.
Experiences like mine are not uncommon. In PRI Fellow Kerry Jackson’s book Living in Fear, he writes about Sacramento’s Pocket-Greenhaven neighborhood – which experienced the largest decrease in violent crime in 2017 out of every neighborhood in the city.
Will Cannady, the president of the Pocket Greenhaven Community Association, credits the significant decrease to high community engagement with the NextDoor social media page.
The NextDoor app functions as a private social media network for neighborhoods where residents can post about crimes, complaints, and encourages general local activism.
Through a similar app owned by Ring, Neighbors, individuals can post Ring videos caught on their camera.
Private social medias can serve as a very powerful tool to identify and ultimately deter crime, especially if partnered with public services. As of 2021, over 2,000 police and fire departments have made partnerships with the Ring company. Police departments used to be able to request footage from homeowners with smart security cameras within a specific area and time frame. The homeowners can consent or decline to participate. The feature, although beneficial to communities, has since been removed.
The idea of integrating private enterprise with public service, especially within police departments, has since become controversial.
Take the recent case in Southern California, where several officers in the Los Angeles Police Department are being investigated for significant ethics violations for their relationship with Ring. Ring courted police officers, offering free cameras and discount codes if police officers would serve as “brand ambassadors” and recommend the devices to friends.
In the LA Times article exposing the offense, Tony Cheng, an expert on criminology, stated, “we don’t want to be put in the position to have to question or be skeptical about the quality of public safety advice that they’re giving out in meetings, for example, which could be compromised by these private partnerships.”
Certainly, police officers should not receive benefits from private companies for their public service. The incident will almost certainly derail public trust in cooperation between private companies like Ring and police departments.
However, such negative examples should not distract from the potential good that partnerships between public and private enterprise – when done ethically – can bring.
By effectively partnering with private-sector apps and the community, we could expect to see fewer “porch pirates” and incidents of vandalism, robberies, and similar crimes. Neighbors would be enabled to effectively work together with public safety for the good of their local communities, which would be the true embodiment of community policing.
McKenzie Richards is a development associate at the Pacific Research Institute.