Triangle police departments aiming to quell privacy concerns as crime-solving partnerships with Ring continue

Investigators

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — It’s touted as a useful tool to help police solve crimes, but some fear it’s out of control surveillance without any oversight. We’re talking about the Ring doorbell camera.

Scores of police departments have partnered with Ring to access videos from your home.

But some ask, whose watching whom?

We live in a society where everything is recorded by everyone and that recorded content is shared worldwide in an instant.

Let’s not ignore our doorbells. The images they record can now be shared with police in a partnership program critics say has little or no oversight.

The Clayton Police Department is one of several in our area that has partnered with Ring, allowing it voluntary access to your doorbell video footage.

“This technology is amazing,” said Chief Blair Myhand. “I would rank it very high in helping us solve crimes.”

Myhand’s department joined the ring partnership in February.

Research by consumer investigator Steve Sbraccia found 10 police agencies in the Triangle which have partnered with Ring-all of them joining the program between 2019 and today.

However, that’s just a fraction of agencies involved in the video sharing program.

“We now know there are more than 1,300 police departments across the United States that have entered into one of these partnerships, said Evan Greer who is the director of Fight for the Future.

So how does this partnership work?

Police get access to a portal which allows them to do everything from sending messages out to the community to asking for video from specific areas.

Clayton police Lieutenant G. N. Earp demonstrated how it works for CBS 17.

“It pops up over the whole city and then we can put a request in to ask people for help on certain cases,” Earp said. “I can put up a geofence.”

That geofence allows him to narrow or broaden his search area.

Police tell us that the surveillance cameras have captured everything from break-ins to stolen packages and more.

Those who’ve been victimized are happy the doorbell cam was rolling like this man whose van was burglarized at 2 a.m. in Clayton.

“When I got down here they were going that way. Me and my neighbor chased them up there and they went into the woods,” said Jessie Smith.

For Smith, there’s no downside to allowing police access to the surveillance video.

He said he doesn’t feel like it’s too much surveillance or too much “big brother”.

“Never too much,” he said. “Never too much.”

CBS 17 wanted to know before police got a homeowner’s permission to use their Ring video, could they put restrictions on it, like could it only be used for a certain amount of time and for certain purposes?

Greer said, “Absolutely not. That’s one of the biggest problems here.”

She said, “Once someone hands over the footage from a ring camera to police they can store it indefinitely. They can do whatever they want with it.”

I wanted to know how our local police deal with that collected video so I sent emails to the 10 agencies in our area asking that question. Seven replied.

Wendell police said, “The retention time can vary based on the type of crime and whether or not the crime has been solved.”

Wendell PD Chief Bill Carter

Fuquay Varina police said, “We don’t maintain it (that footage) on our servers.”

Apex Police replied, “If the video is deemed evidence of a crime, it is made part of a case file and retained per North Carolina Records Retention guidelines.”

Apex PD Chief John Letteney

You can read the full replies to the all the emails below:

Ring also offers the “Neighbors” app which lets people know when and where a crime happens in their area.

It also allows people to upload doorbell videos. That worries some experts.

“We’re going to see a growing sense of people sort of becoming informants on our neighbors and our neighborhoods,” said Andrew Ferguson, author of The Rise of Big Data Policing.

When U.S. Senator Ed Markey looked into the Ring/police partnership his investigation found that Ring:

  • Has no security requirements for the law enforcement offices that get access to users’ footage
  • Has no evidentiary standard for law enforcement to request Ring footage from users
  • Ring has no restrictions on law enforcement sharing users’ footage with third parties

“Your local police could hand it over to the FBI, the DEA, or ICE who could use it for their own purposes,” said Greer.

Ring’s CEO defends his company.

“I can tell you we will always follow the laws, but we will always fight for our customer’s rights, their control and their privacy,” said CEO Jamie Simonoff.

Critics of the partnerships also worry that they were established without elected officials having any say in the matter.

“These partnerships were entered into between Amazon and the cops,” said Greer. “No mayor signed off on it.”

Right now, we have to trust that police will access and use the footage in a lawful manner, but critics say more regulation is needed because they believe the potential for abuse is enormous.

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