California Police Officers Are Handing Out Free Doorbell Cameras In Exchange For Testimony In Court

from the underbidding-Crime-Stoppers-and-raising-propriety-questions-in-court dept

Snitches no longer get stitches. In the year of our lord two-thousand-nineteen, snitches get street surveillance gear from Amazon.

Amazon’s Ring doorbell — which sports a handy camera to catch all those package thieves — has swallowed up more than 200 police departments with its charm offensive. Cops get doorbell cams at a discount and hand them out for free to locals with the assumption residents will repay the favor by granting officers warrant-free access to footage any time they ask.

To decrease friction, Ring — which has final edit approval on police publicity efforts — nudges people towards its snitch app, Neighbors, which encourages users to post any suspicious footage they capture. Ring also nudges law enforcement towards more social media interaction with Ring users to blur the line between sharing with neighbors and sharing with government employees.

The push continues. Amazon sees a market worth cornering and cops see a handy way to turn multiple doorsteps into extensions of their existing surveillance network. Win-win for all involved, I guess, except those who want to secure their homes without feeling obligated to hand over footage whenever the government thinks it might be helpful.

The advantages for law enforcement are obvious. And that has led to more… um… proactive efforts by law enforcement to spread the good word about these doorbell cameras. Louise Matsakis reports for Wired that a California law enforcement agency recently offered Ring doorbells to citizens in exchange for some help with their cop work.

On June 21, Chris Williams, the captain of the El Monte Police Department in California, sent an email to staff reminding them about a new incentive for crime witnesses to share information with law enforcement. Rather than the cash reward used by some programs, El Monte gave out camera-equipped doorbells made by the home security company Ring, which retail starting at $99.

The asking price for a “free” $99 camera seems to be a bit steep. According to documents obtained by Caroline Haskins of Motherboard, the El Monte PD isn’t interested in vague tips about somebody seeing somebody do something. This may be acceptable for confidential informants, but potential camera “winners” have a higher bar to hurdle. The tips must be specific, result in a prosecution, and — here’s the big one — potential camera recipients must be willing to testify in court.

Since the PD is also sort of getting a free camera — what with Ring’s online portal that allows cops to locate any Ring owner and ask them directly for footage sans warrant — this seems like a raw deal for the general public. While most people do want to help law enforcement put criminals behind bars, a decent percentage of those probably aren’t willing to go so far as to get on the stand during a trial.

Ring says it doesn’t encourage this sort of thing, nor does it craft scripts or write PR pitches suggesting cops offer free cameras in exchange for testimony. But Ring definitely encourages this sort of thing with its unending push to deploy more cameras and get more people using its Neighbors app.

A few weeks after Williams sent out a reminder about the rewards program, a Ring employee emailed him with a congratulatory note: “Since EMPD first onboarded on 5/1, you have all increased your Neighbors app users (El Monte residents) by 1,058 users! Great job!”

And there’s even more encouragement where that came from.

Ring nominated the El Monte Police Department for Ring’s “Agency of the Year Award,” according to new emails obtained by Motherboard. One email from a Ring representative, dated July 2019, asks the police department to submit “a success story” that resulted from using the Law Enforcement Neighborhood Portal.

There’s really no downside to the El Monte PD’s exchange program, other than some negative press. If someone is willing to do all of this for a $99 camera, it’s unlikely they’ll push back at all when the PD starts asking for their doorbell footage.

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Companies: amazon, ring

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Comments on “California Police Officers Are Handing Out Free Doorbell Cameras In Exchange For Testimony In Court”

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Adam (profile) says:

Not legal in my state

I recently had a lovely conversation with someone trying to ‘give’ me one of those. I live on a small very narrow street and it would have looked directly across the street at my neighbors house. My state also has a anti peeping Tom law that has this wording: "Uses a fixed optical device that enhances or records a visual occurrence to view through any window of another person’s property"

I told him that any doorbell camera would be illegal on my street since every house on it has another on the opposite side with windows facing the street.

It was pretty fun seeing him react to being told his entire product was illegal on my street and if any of my neighbors installed one I would do everything in my power to make sure he was held accountable as an accomplice.

I should note that the reason I know about this law and have had lawyers counsel me on it is because I install cameras and security systems professionally.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Since the PD is also sort of getting a free camera — what with Ring’s online portal that allows cops to locate any Ring owner and ask them directly for footage sans warrant.

Why on earth would the police need a warrant to ask for voluntarily consent?

You italicize the word "sans", like it’s some circumvention of law or constitutional principle, but that has never been the case. Since the Republic was founded two-plus centuries ago, the police have always been allowed to ask for and receive consent and when they do, the 4th Amendment and its warrant requirement don’t even enter into it.

a decent percentage of those probably aren’t willing to go so far as to get on the stand during a trial.

If you don’t want to be involved in this, then just don’t take the damn camera. Just decline the offer. This is hardly rocket science and hardly worthy of the what seems to be an unending series of articles on this site bemoaning the idea that people might be helping the cops catch assholes with their home security tech instead of telling the cops to fuck off as Cushing apparently thinks any good citizen ought to do.

Vidiot (profile) says:

As a new owner of one of these devices (no, I’m neither sharing nor cooperating), I’ve received "alerts of suspicious activity in your area", even though I’m not involved in the neighborhood nonsense. The alert posts are truly frightening, each suggesting dire motives for the miscreant with the nerve to appear on someone’s front porch. (They look like canvassers and delivery people to me.) The hysterical tone of the responses suggests someone’s going to get a shotgun blast through the closed door. And there doesn’t seem to be a point to these posts; most use lame suggestions and innuendo before whimpering to "neighbors", "Do you think that guy is suspicious?" I’m sure the Amazon-connected departments would love to chalk up a "catch" courtesy of Ring, but there’s not much evidence of that.

Henrik Nielsen (profile) says:

Seems as if that can’t be legal too many places? I have been living in Denmark for many years now, and that wouldn’t be legalg because of a new law passed in the European PArliament. GDPR – Can’t remember what it stands for, but more or less it is making sure that nothing is posted or used without consent. So these types of cameras could violate that law… But elsewhy it is kinda a good idea. You get more people to attend courtrooms and at the same time more people may feel safer with some surveillance.
– Just my opinion. Henrik, owner of in Denmark

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