Rochester police working with Amazon Ring to collect neighborhood surveillance video
As the Rochester Police Department begins participating in an online neighborhood watch run by an Amazon satellite company, questions linger about privacy protections for residents.
The department announced its partnership with Ring, a company making doorbells equipped with cameras, on July 31 via Facebook. Through the Neighbors by Ring app, users can share and receive crime and safety alerts on their phone. In the original Facebook post, RPD said they “…will be using Neighbors to monitor crime in your area and send you updates on key crime incidents so you can all stay informed.”
“I think this brings the neighborhood up to the 21st century,” said Rochester Police Captain Jeff Stilwell. “It helps people know what’s going on. It’s another vehicle to get evidence.”
Signing up to be part of the surveillance network is optional. Ring customers can also decide whether they want to share specific camera footage with law enforcement. As the company explained to The Verge:
While law enforcement partners can submit video requests for users in a given area when investigating an active case, Ring facilitates these requests and user consent is required in order for any footage or information to be shared. Law enforcement cannot see how many Ring users received the request, declined to share or opted-out of all future requests.
“We are not using the Ring system for real-time surveillance,” Stilwell added. “We have no idea who the subscribers are, we have no idea where the cameras are located. We see this as just another way to exchange information between us and people who are victims of crime.”
While police cannot directly access the videos without consent, concerns have been raised about false alarms, racial profiling, and a company of Amazon’s size controlling such a large amount of sensitive data.
“I understand the concerns that they have a lot of information,” said Stilwell. “But from our perspective, we saw it as another tool to gather information about crimes that have been committed.”
Rochester is one of over 200 police departments across the country partnering with Ring, according to an article from The Verge. Business Insider reported in July that Amazon required police departments to advertise Ring doorbell cameras in exchange for free Ring systems. Capt. Stilwell said that wasn’t the case in Rochester.
“We’re not pushing the product at all,” Stilwell said in a phone call this week. “People can look into it and see if it’s a value to their neighborhood, but we’re not advertising for the system.”
The program went live in Rochester on July 1.
Isaac Jahns is back in Rochester this summer reporting for Med City Beat. The Mayo High School grad studies journalism at the University of Missouri. His main passions are writing music and telling people’s stories.
Cover photo via the Ring website