THE LAST WORD: Police partnerships with neighborhoods that use doorbell cams can prevent crime

Kerry Hubartt

We live in an age of videos that show anything and everything any time and almost anywhere and make life more and more difficult to keep private.

People can’t do anything without being recorded, it seems, because someone’s smartphone or a business or stoplight or home doorbell has a camera that will catch them in the act. Police cars and even body cams record the actions of law enforcement officers and the people with whom they interact.

Most of us are likely grateful for the innovations that make it possible to verify criminal activity or possible threats. And who isn’t in favor of more security? The increase in home security systems has made residences more crime-proof, and the addition of security cameras not only catches criminals in the act, but warn residents of who is at your door whether you are at home or not.

And one of the newer innovations to video security is the doorbell cam. I was first made aware of them when a friend said he was planning to buy one for his own home.

So it was with heightened interest that I read a recent Associated Press story about police agencies across the country joining with the company known as Ring to install doorbell cameras in homes to serve as a digital neighborhood watch.

Ring is a subsidiary of Amazon. In Googling doorbell cams online, I went to “shop doorbell cams on Amazon” where the Ring Door View Cam sells for $199. Of course, since I was using Google, the first choice on the computer screen was the Google Nest Hello Doorbell, that “lets you know who’s there, so you never miss a thing.” Price: $229. The popular SimpliSafe home security system offers its own Doorbell Pro for $169 each. And the ADT Video Doorbell is also an option (you can get a free quote).

The promotion for the Google Nest Hello, for example, reads in part: “It … delivers HD video and bright, crisp images, even at night. It’s designed to show you everything at your doorstep — people head to toe or packages on the ground. … And get intelligent alerts, like when Nest Hello spots a familiar face or a stranger.”

Ring and other doorbell cams offer similar features. Police agencies across the country decided to partner with Ring after the company promoted its product at law enforcement conferences.

Some departments, according to the AP story, use Ring’s Neighbors app, which encourages residents to share videos of suspicious activity. Others, the story says, “agreed to provide subsidies, matched by Ring, to offer hundreds of discounted cameras in hopes of tapping into footage of residential streets, yards and sidewalks. And some police chiefs raffle off the devices.”

The gist of the AP story was that as more police agencies join with Ring, the partnerships are raising privacy concerns. Ring would not tell AP how many communities have entered into such partnerships, but the story cited examples from across the U.S., including Hammond, Ind.

Hammond offered Ring cameras at a discount by footing part of the cost. Lt. Steve Kellogg told AP the partnership made sense for a city that already uses cameras to read license plates.

“You cannot enter or leave our city without … being captured on film,” he said.

But as with all good intentions there is criticism of the partnerships on the basis that the systems make neighborhoods places of constant surveillance, harking to the totalitarian Big Brother threat in the novel “1984.” Critics also say the cameras create suspicion that targets minorities and that Amazon promotions of its cameras seem to create fear of crime at a time when they say crime is decreasing.

Sure, there may be issues to sort out in such partnerships — confidentiality, the freedom to share or not share such videos and other concerns.

But the benefits of using doorbell cams and other similar security video services seem to outweigh most of those worries. And neighborhood partnerships with local law enforcement make a lot of sense when you want to protect your home and catch the bad guys.

Kerry Hubartt is former editor of The News-Sentinel.

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