Amazon Teams With Colorado Police, US Postal Service On Sting That Catches Zero Package Thieves

from the your-tax-dollars-looking-busy dept

Cops are handing out hackable doorbells to local homeowners like so much razorbladed Halloween candy. Only it's not razor blades. It's surveillance. Amazon's Ring doorbells are the new party favors, available to citizens at a steep discount. Sometimes, they can actually get them for free from local PDs. And why not? It's not like the cops spent their money. It seems only fair for citizens to take home some of what they've purchased.

The promise is a bit more security, in the form of a doorbell that watches your doorstep and the yard/driveway/street beyond. The implicit suggestion is that you repay this deep discount by allowing cops to access camera footage at will. Even if you demur, you'll be added to local law enforcement's Ring map, showing all the houses cops can approach to ask for camera footage.

The doorbells are also tied to an app, Neighbors -- one that Amazon markets with footage of doorstep thefts. Amazon likes this angle so much it's hiring staff to produce news coverage of criminal activities with a hyperlocal focus.

Cops like Ring. And Amazon/Ring likes cops. More tax dollars have headed Amazon's way in recent months, but documents obtained by Vice show this particular partnership -- which also roped in the US Postal Service -- failed to pay off for the citizens funding it. Caroline Haskins reports that a Christmas sting operation in Colorado utilized a lot of tech and government personnel, but failed to round up even the usual suspects.

New documents obtained by Motherboard using a Freedom of Information request show how Amazon, Ring, a GPS tracking company, and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service collaborated on a package sting operation with the Aurora, Colorado Police Department in December. The operation involved equipping fake Amazon packages with GPS trackers, and surveilling doorsteps with Ring doorbell cameras in an effort to catch someone stealing a package on tape.

The documents show the design and implementation of a highly elaborate public relations stunt, which was designed both to endear Amazon and Ring with local law enforcement, and to make local residents fear the place they live. The parties were disappointed when the operation didn’t result in any arrests.

Vice/Motherboard has posted the documents online so the public can retrace the fail trail. The sting operation involved two government agencies, two companies, 25 Amazon boxes, 15 Ring doorbell cameras, 15 GPS tracking devices, and seven Colorado zip codes. The most notable number, however, is the arrest total: zero.

During this driest of runs, the PR coordinator for Ring's snitch app (Neighbors), offered her sincere condolences to everyone involved:

"Unfortunate that none were apprehended this time around…"

Yeah, it sucks no one was out stealing packages from doorsteps. It would have made for a great demo reel when pitching Aurora residences doorbell cameras and their chance to participate in spying on their friends, neighbors, and acquaintances.

The documents also show Amazon coordinating most of the operation, starting with a training session provided by the maker of the GPS devices, all the way through to its final cut approval on Aurora PD press releases about the sting. They also show the police department asked citizens to be a part of the Ring-enabled surveillance network expansion project, doing business under the delightful name of "Operation Grinch Grab."

When reached by Motherboard for comment, officer Wells-Longshore said that the Aurora Police Department does not have access to a Ring law enforcement neighborhood portal, but they asked residents for Ring doorbell footage access, and offered to give some residents free Ring cameras.

Sure, you can take a free camera and refuse to grant law enforcement access to footage, but what kind of a citizen would do that? Probably the kind that won't pick up litter and put it in the trash when asked to by a uniformed officer. These free Ring cameras come with an implied access license few people will feel comfortable violating.

This sting operation's lack of success won't discourage other law enforcement agencies from partnering with Amazon in the future. Amazon has made it very clear it has zero problems selling surveillance tech to law enforcement, even while under the Congressional microscope. With Ring, it's expanding law enforcement's surveillance reach with cheap-to-free cameras that appeal to homeowners' pocketbooks and peace of mind.

If this all seems a bit too cozy, that's because it is. And what appears to be little more than an easy way to capture package thieves on tape is actually a convenient way for the government to keep an eye on people's comings and goings, as well as who they socialize with. For now, it's all about footage of crimes. But the access point is already there and the camera is always rolling.

Filed Under: aurora, colorado, package thiefs, ring doorbells, surveillance, usps
Companies: amazon, ring


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  • identicon
    Rekrul, 12 Jul 2019 @ 11:13am

    I wish I could find it again (if anyone has a link to this video, please post it!), but I once watched a video of someone who had rigged a package of literal crap to explode by remote control. Then he sat inside and watched his outside camera. A thief came up, grabbed the package and hopped back in the passenger seat of a car. The author waited until the car had driven a short distance away, then he set it off. The car immediately came to a stop and the thief got out, clearly in distress.

    Personally, I think that's how package thieves should be dealt with, even if the law doesn't agree.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 Jul 2019 @ 11:55am

      Re:

      Because everything you see on the internet is true.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      renato (profile), 12 Jul 2019 @ 12:00pm

      Re:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xoxhDk-hwuo

      Just searched for "glitter bomb package thief" and it was the first video.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        JoeCool (profile), 12 Jul 2019 @ 12:16pm

        Re: Re:

        I'm not sure what's more amazing - that the guy spent so much time and money on a bait package for thieves, or that he has that big a problem with thieves stealing packages (the glitter bomb got stolen three times on the video). I think I'd move if crime were that bad where I lived.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          James Burkhardt (profile), 12 Jul 2019 @ 12:54pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          So, Mark Robber, the guy who made the glitter bomb, does engineering builds for youtube monthly. He does this to get people interested in science and engineering. He didn't do this to end package thieves, not really. He did this because it was a cool engineering project.

          Package theft is not really neighborhood specific during the holidays. In this day and age of Amazon Christmas shopping, traditionally low crime areas can become hotbeds of package theft as people just drive around looking for packages on porches.

          As well, it seems he had multiple versions of this build at a few homes to get enough footage, which caused a few issues when human greed got to those he solicited for help in planting packages:

          https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2018/12/21/viral-glitter-bomb-video-featured-fa ke-thieves-creator-says/2389954002/

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            JoeCool (profile), 12 Jul 2019 @ 4:59pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            The "fake" parts have already been removed from the video. There's still three thefts in it. And yes, "shopping" by thieves cruising neighborhoods for packages could occur almost anywhere, so pay attention to those Amazon emails telling you when your package is due and has been delivered.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Rekrul, 12 Jul 2019 @ 10:52pm

        Re: Re:

        Just searched for "glitter bomb package thief" and it was the first video.

        Just in case my description of it being a box full of "literal crap" wasn't clear, I'm talking about a video where a guy filled a box with feces/shit/doodoo/droppings/diaper fudge/the stinky brown stuff, and rigged it to explode via remote control. I'm not referring to glitter.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 Jul 2019 @ 12:10pm

      Re:

      Even if it is illegal?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        JoeCool (profile), 12 Jul 2019 @ 12:20pm

        Re: Re:

        If it causes physical harm, then it's assault with a deadly weapon. Home Alone kid would have gotten serious prison time in real life as boobie traps of the level in the movie are really nasty felonies. I doubt the glitter bomb would result in charges. He did record audio, so he could still be in violation of wiretap laws, depending on the state he's in.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 12 Jul 2019 @ 3:33pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Re: Home Alone, at least in 1990 it would have been a stretch to try an 8-year-old as an adult.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            JoeCool (profile), 12 Jul 2019 @ 5:00pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Probably, but they were trying 6 to 8 year-olds as adults not much later than that. Back then, he'd have probably just been sent to juvey until he was 18.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Jul 2019 @ 1:17pm

    Next they'll give us discounts on smart TVs as long as they can have unfettered access to the video feed from the in-TV camera.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    TRX, 13 Jul 2019 @ 11:13am

    didn’t result in any arrests.

    Which isn't the same as "no packages were stolen" or "the cameras didn't show anyone stealing packages."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    btr1701 (profile), 16 Jul 2019 @ 3:46pm

    These free Ring cameras come with an implied access license few people will feel comfortable violating.

    Then don't take the free camera if you don't want to share the footage with the cops but would feel uncomfortable saying no.

    Sheesh. This isn't hard, folks.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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