NAUGATUCK — The Naugatuck Police Department has expanded its digital presence in the hopes that more eyes — or rather cameras — will mean more leads to help fight crime.
The Naugatuck Police Department has partnered with Ring, a subsidiary of Amazon that makes doorbell cameras, and joined the company’s Neighbors app. Through the app, people can share videos captured by their cameras and receive alerts when others post videos or information in the area surrounding their homes. The app is designed for people to share suspicious or criminal activity, but often times the cameras can pick up innocuous activity, like wild animals. Residents don’t need to have Ring cameras to download the app.
Police agencies that join the app can view public posts within their jurisdiction, rather than just a neighborhood, and a map of their town that shows where people have posted.
“It gives us a good idea of what’s going on the community and what people are talking about,” Deputy Police Chief C. Colin McAllister said.
Police agencies can also post their own alerts through the app and request videos from residents who live in the area where a crime occurred.
“I like to think of it as a digital neighborhood watch program,” Police Chief Steven Hunt said. “With all the technology out there, it’s another way for us to partner with the community.”
Hunt said the department doesn’t request videos directly from residents. Police tell Ring they are looking for videos in a particular area that a crime occurred. Ring then forwards the request to people with cameras in the area and sends any videos submitted back to the police department.
Hunt said people don’t have to respond to the request and submissions are anonymous, unless people provide their names.
“It’s simply a way for us to request. People don’t have to, again, comply with our request. They can simply choose to ignore it,” Hunt said.
Hunt compared it to a friend request on Facebook — people can accept or decline it.
The Naugatuck Police Department isn’t a stranger to social media. The department has focused on growing its social media presence over the past several years — first with Facebook and Twitter, and now the department has an Instagram account.
“I think social media has taken on such a foothold in our way of life, that when we utilize Facebook, when we utilize Twitter and now Instagram, we’re able to reach so many more people than we have in the past,” Hunt said. “The response has been overwhelming.”
A growing number of police agencies across the country have partnered with Ring. Some agencies agreed to provide subsidies, matched by Ring, to offer hundreds of discounted cameras. And some police agencies raffle off the devices.
Sharing video is always voluntary and privacy is protected, according to the company.
“There is nothing required of homeowners who participate in the subsidies, and their identity and data remain private,” spokeswoman Brigid Gorham told the Associated Press.
Gorham said customers can control who views their footage, and no personally identifiable information is shared with police without a user’s consent.
“It’s a virtual form of conducting a neighborhood canvass, which police have been doing since the inception of law enforcement,” McAllister said. “(Police) have gone out, knocked on doors, solicited information from concerned citizens, and some people choose to answer the door, some people don’t.”
Police could seek a search warrant, though, if they want video for an investigation.
The Wolcott Police Department, which was the first in the state to partner with Ring, launched its partnership by raffling off five cameras in February.
Wolcott Police Chief Edward Stephens said the department has since raffled off a few more cameras, at no cost to the town.
Stephens said the cameras helped Wolcott police arrest suspects in two burglaries from homes under construction. He said the program makes police work more efficient, since officers can reach out to people online rather than going door to door, and it’s anonymous.
“It’s a good program for the community and the police to work together,” Stephens said.
Naugatuck police have no plans for any promotions to subsidize Ring cameras or raffle off cameras, McAllister said.
Hunt said the Neighbors app is a way for the department to look at videos to piece together any leads that might help solve crimes.
“When it comes down to it, I think the biggest thing for us is, again, working with the community, building trust, and our overall goal is to make our community safer,” Hunt said. “And if the word gets out that Naugatuck is using this technology, people (criminals) will hopefully think twice about coming here.”
Naugatuck residents can download the Neighbors app on their smartphones or text NAUGATUCKCT to 555888.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.