Partnership between LAPD and Ring Raises Concerns About Privacy and Effectiveness
A Steady Stream of Emails
On September 23, 2021, Detective Jeffry Poole of the Los Angeles Police Department found his inbox flooded with emails. These emails were alerts from Neighbors, the social media platform for Ring doorbell camera owners. Over the course of the day, Poole received 63 emails, with more arriving every 10 minutes. Neighbors is designed to unite neighbors, law enforcement, and the Ring News team to make communities safer.
A Growing Partnership
The LAPD is one of over 2,600 police departments in the United States that have partnered with Amazon’s Ring network. This collaboration results in a constant flow of email alerts from Neighbors to hundreds of LAPD officers. However, the effectiveness of this partnership in improving policing outcomes is unclear.
Concerns about Privacy and Misdirected Attention
While Neighbors intends to provide police with valuable information about potential crimes, a significant portion of the forwarded posts do not involve criminal activity. The Markup’s analysis of 1,000 randomly selected alerts found that roughly one-third described non-criminal behavior deemed suspicious by users. This focus on quality-of-life issues and property theft raises concerns that policing priorities may shift away from life-threatening crimes.
Albert Fox Cahn, founder and executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, believes that the deluge of information is a waste of officers’ time and hinders meaningful police work.
Ring’s Recruitment Tactics
Ring actively recruited the LAPD to use its platform, organizing in-person training sessions and video calls to familiarize officers with Neighbors. The company also provided access to a service called the Ring Neighborhoods Portal, allowing officers to interact with camera owners, view active Ring devices, and request footage directly. However, after facing criticism, Ring changed its policy to require law enforcement to post on the app’s timelines to ask for footage.
Tensions Between Privacy and Data Collection
Privacy concerns surround the LAPD’s embrace of unproven technologies like Ring. The department has a history of controversial programs, such as predictive policing, that raise questions about bias and data collection. Critics argue that these tech-centric approaches do not address underlying social issues and often fail to produce meaningful policing outcomes.
Ring did not respond to specific questions about Neighbors and its partnership with the LAPD. The LAPD declined interview requests and did not provide detailed information about the outcomes of its partnership with Ring. The effectiveness of the Neighbors platform in reducing crime remains uncertain, with limited evidence from previous investigations.
Concerns About Policing Priorities
Experts worry that the flood of alerts from Neighbors may divert police attention away from more pressing issues. Furthermore, the platform may serve as a space where minor complaints and grievances are turned into policing matters, making it harder for police to prioritize their response.
The ongoing partnership between the LAPD and Ring raises questions about privacy, the effectiveness of tech-driven policing, and the potential overreach of police power.
This report was made possible with support from the Pulitzer Center’s AI Accountability Network.