The woody community of Wolcott, Connecticut, does not see much crime. However, when the police chief learned of the possibility of distributing doorbell cameras to some houses, he did not hesitate.
The police, which in collaboration with the camera manufacturer are giving away the city with 16,000, are giving away free cameras. So far, the devices have met more bears than criminals, but Chief Ed Stephens is still a fan. "Anything that helps protect the city, I'll do," he said.
But the more police officers join Ring, the greater the privacy concerns. Critics complain that the systems turn neighborhoods into places of constant surveillance and suspect minorities. The police say the cameras could serve as a digital neighborhood clock.
Critics also say that Ring, an Amazon subsidiary, seems to market its cameras by fueling the fear of crime at a time when it is declining. Amazon's promotional videos show people loitering in their homes, and the company recently launched a senior news editor job to "bring the latest news on crime to our neighbors."
"Amazon benefits from fear," said Chris Gilliard. He is an English professor at Macomb Community College, Michigan, and a well-known critic of Ring and other technologies he says can boost the racing barriers. Part of the strategy seems to be to sell cameras "where the fear of crime is more real than the actual existence of crime."
The cameras offer a wide view from any location. Homeowners receive video-streaming phone notifications when the doorbell rings or the unit's thermal sensors detect a person or a passing car. The basic fee for Ring's Ring is $ 99. For users who want to save footage, there are monthly fees starting at $ 3. According to Ring, records are kept for two months unless they are deleted by users.
Many law enforcement agencies across the country said that the idea of partnering with Ring arose after the company advertised law enforcement conferences for its product.
Some departments have decided to just use the Ring's Neighbors app, which allows residents to share videos with suspicious activity. Other agencies agreed to grant subsidies, which Ring granted to offer hundreds of discounted cameras in the hope of taking pictures of residential streets, yards and sidewalks. And some police chiefs are giving away the devices.
Ring would not divulge the number of communities with such partnerships. Sharing videos is always voluntary and privacy is protected according to the company and the police.
"There is no demand from homeowners who participate in the subsidies, and their identity and data remain private," spokeswoman Brigid Gorham said. She said that customers can control who watches their footage, and that no personally identifiable information is passed on to the police without the consent of a user.
Realistically, however, they may seek a search warrant if the police wants a video for an investigation.  Industry analyst Carolina Milanesi said working with the police and offering incentives was a "very smart move by Ring" and a missed opportunity for competitors, including Google's Nest and smaller companies such as Arlo Technologies and SimpliSafe The Civil Liberties Union from Southern California called the system "an absolute disaster" for the privacy of many neighborhoods.
Subsidy programs allow Amazon to "offer cheap taxpayers' products that can truly expand its tentacles, and broader areas of private life are far more extensive than before," said Mohammad Tajsar.
The Arcadia suburb of Los Angeles has spent $ 50,000 on discounts for 1
Officials can view a "heatmap" that indicates the general area where cameras are located, but they do not see the actual location of a camera. If the police want a video, they must contact Ring to see if the resident is ready to share the video, said Jennifer Brutus, senior management analyst with the Arcadia Police Department.
Arcadia launched its program in late 2017 and the following year, the city saw a 25% decrease in apartment burglaries, Brutus said. It's hard to quantify how much of this is directly related to Ring, but she said the devices are a deterrent.
In one case, a doorbell camera took pictures of four burglar suspects who tried to enter an apartment. Three were arrested at the time, but a fourth came away. After the homeowner gave Arcadia detectives some ring video clips, the police identified and arrested the last suspect.
Hammond, Indiana, also used money to offer ring cameras at discounted prices. Steve Kellogg said the partnership is a logical step for a city that already uses cameras to read license plates.
"You can not enter or leave our city without … being caught on film," he added. The next logical step. "We thought," Well, the only angle we do not really have are cameras right on the houses. "
He said sharing videos is voluntary.
Green Bay, Wisconsin, gets one camera for every 20 free people who sign up for the Ring app via a city link. First, the police asked the recipients of these free cameras to agree to provide the requested video police. After The Associated Press started reporting on this story, the request was dropped.
In a suburb of Coon Rapids, Minneapolis, a thief stole a 1.5m (7ft) bald eagle from Larry Eklund's garden earlier this year. The police had one important piece of evidence: a picture of the suspect looking directly into Eklund's doorbell camera.
A few days passed without hints. Then the officials have published the video on social media. Hours later, the carving was returned.
"If we did not have the ring, we would never have recognized the guy," Eklund said. "I'm sure it would have been really difficult to get it back." Trish Heitman, a police public affairs specialist, said the city does not want to promote a particular camera brand.
Another big problem is the confidentiality. Coon Rapids keeps the list of registered camera owners private. If a crime is committed near a camera, the police can contact homeowners in the registry to find out if they want to share videos.
If a partnership requires data sharing, "we would never do that," said Heitman.
Wolcott, Ernie Field won a free ring camera and said he needed to sign up for the app to qualify for the raffle. Now he receives notifications on his cell phone when a car drives by, and a short video when his daughter comes home from school.
"I do not know if there's any more crime now, or we just know it more because of social media," he said.
Field, who said he looked at other cameras, wondered if Wolcotts Partnership gave Amazon an unfair advantage
"They have a monopoly on many things," he said, "and they take over everything, so to speak."
Forliti reported from Minneapolis, O'Brien reported from Providence, Rhode Island.