To the editor,
A recent article, “PD moves into digital neighborhood” (Citizen’s News, Aug. 29, 2019) explained that the Naugatuck Police Department partnered with Ring, a company offering doorbell cameras and an app that allows footage from the cameras to be shared. What was left out of the article was how controversial police partnership with this company has become nationwide.
Police get access to a portal in which those who have the app can essentially serve as spies for the police. The Naugatuck police chief calls this a “digital neighborhood watch” and a “way to partner with the community.” However, the only partnering going on is a transfer of footage from cameras on homes to the police. The police are under zero obligation to notify the neighborhood about anything. The chief also points out that sharing videos is voluntary — people can “choose to ignore it” — but the article later indicates that this is not entirely true: “Police could seek a search warrant, though, if they want video for an investigation.” And many people might find it hard to say no to a request from a police officer. There are also no guidelines about what the police can do with the video once obtained “voluntarily.” The entire system is nowhere near as voluntary or anonymous as the police would have people think.
Unfortunately, policing as a whole (I am not singling out Naugatuck police) has a track record of claiming it needs new technology or tactics to deal with crime. SWAT teams were to be for hostage situations, but nearly 80% of the raids studied as part of a report by the American Civil Liberties Union were conducted to serve search warrants. Tasers would replace using lethal force. Now they are used as a tool to be sure police orders are obeyed.
People should be skeptical that neighborhood cameras will be used mainly for getting a “good idea of what’s going on (in) the community.” Innocent people could be declared suspicious and be investigated or detained for questioning. People of color might automatically be put in that category in mostly white neighborhoods. If coupled with facial recognition technology, false matches can lead to arrests and charges that can be expensive and time consuming to counter. Videos of people who have done nothing wrong could be shared with other policing agencies and stored in databases, making them potential suspects for future crimes.
It is pretty clear to me that using a network of cameras is not about crime, as Naugatuck is not a high crime area. Amazon pushes Ring as a solution to front door theft, but the theft rate in Naugatuck is 11.22 per thousand as compared to 16.94 for the U.S. Robbery (0.29 vs. 0.98), burglary (2.10 vs. 4.30) and car theft (0.92 vs. 2.37) are all well below national rates, according to neighborhoodscout.com. Property crime has decreased over the last five years, according to city-data.com. Even when crimes do occur, how many times will a front door camera capture footage of the perpetrator or evidence of the crime itself?
If such crime is relatively rare in Naugatuck, then why do the police feel a need to join a “ring” of video sharers? Participation by the police in this may turn out to be completely innocuous, but in my opinion unnecessary and a potential source of abuse. Is this partnership with Ring the result of a sales pitch from a company trying to profit off the perception that crime is getting worse or is it based on a real need of the community?