Crowd-Sourcing Crime Fighting

Home security ecosystems redefine Neighbourhood Watch schemes

Earlier in 2019, the small US town of Wolcott began a programme to encourage its citizens to install and use Ring’s Neighbors app. The app allows owners of the company’s video doorbells and other security cameras to share instances of possible disturbances around their homes. Even those who don’t own any Ring hardware can use the app by keeping current on local events.

Also tapping the Neighbors app is the town’s police department, which turns to collected video footage to solve local crimes. The town has used citizen-shared video feeds to solve several wrongdoings such as vandalism and package theft. Encouraged by such uses, Wolcott is even giving away several Ring doorbells to some of its residents.

Wolcott is a town of about 17,000 in Connecticut, a state on the east coast of the US. It’s one of many municipalities turning to crowd-sourced video for investigative purposes. Some towns and cities are even subsidizing hardware costs together with Ring to accelerate device usage, creating a city-wide web of electronic eyes. The town of Arcadia, California, for example, contributed $50,000 to subsidize the cost of getting 1,000 additional Ring cameras for its neighbourhoods. Local authorities say that the programme led to a 25% drop in burglaries as the cameras act as a deterrent. Other locations across the state and country have implemented similar subsidies.

Thanks to a wide and growing number of users, Ring and other home video security systems are enabling a sort of 21st century citizens’ watch organization. These small and relatively low-cost cameras look toward yards, walkways and streets, catching all sorts of activities. This wide ecosystem of civilian-security systems has become too tempting for police to look away.

Amazon-owned Ring is active in this trend, becoming a middleman between Ring device owners and authorities. When police are investigating a crime in a particular area, they can ask the company to collect video from its users. Ring stresses this is an opt-in process, with citizens having to agree to share footage. However, some towns build a registry of camera owners, enabling police to contact homeowners directly.

We believe the next logical step is cutting out the middleman, with a growing number of police forces asking citizens to allow direct access to live camera feeds, particularly in troubled areas.

In fact, we predicted this trend in October 2018 at our Predictions event, when we said that in 2019, networks of householders’ connected security cameras would be created to support law enforcement. Consumers would opt in to allow their external security cameras to be linked to a common cloud-based system. Stored and real-time video would be made available to law enforcement bodies, which would mine the footage using artificial intelligence tools. Some communities would opt into a service run by private security firms to protect themselves.

Such developments are leading to concerns about privacy, with some observers pointing out that wherever you go and whatever you do, you’ll be captured on video, even in the smallest of communities. This fear of non-stop surveillance certainly has some legitimacy to it.

Nonetheless, this crowd-sourced crime-fighting trend is unlikely to reverse, as municipalities in the US and around the globe learn that many cameras make for light work. It’s a part of the value chain that Amazon and other providers of home security systems are suddenly envisioning.