App aims to curb crime

Published 9:03 pm Thursday, January 23, 2020

Suffolk Police Chief Thomas Bennett hopes his department’s new use of an app will help the department fight neighborhood crimes.

The Neighbors App by Ring can be used by anyone, whether or not they have a Ring device set up at their home or business. Ring devices act like a video doorbell that people can monitor whether they are home or not.

Bennett said that with many Suffolk residents already having Ring devices, it made sense to connect to the app to give residents and Suffolk Police to communicate with each other directly.

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“It enables us to set up a system with our citizens, if they want to participate, to send us videos,” Bennett said.

Suffolk Police will be able to interact with people by viewing and responding to crime and safety incidents, sharing real-time alerts to keep residents informed and requesting help on active investigations.

This is done, Bennett said, by using information shared publicly by app users. Suffolk Police do not have access to a user’s cameras or devices through the Neighbors App or through Ring, and device locations are not provided to police without user consent.

Bennett said Suffolk Police will see the same information on the Neighbors App as regular users and do not get any additional information about the post, the user posting information or comments. They will, however, be able to use a video request tool within the app to ask for video from device owners who are in the area of an active investigation.

According to information on the Neighbors App, law enforcement must reference a case number and can only request videos from a limited time and area.

Upon getting a request, residents can decide whether to share any videos, decline the request or opt-out of all future requests. It also notes that law enforcement can only identify app users as “Neighbor #” and cannot see or access user account information, including a device’s location, on the Neighbors Portal without explicit consent from the user.

The app notes that law enforcement will not get any direct access to users when making video requests, and that to protect user privacy, all video requests are facilitated through Ring, and not through law enforcement directly. Users have to consent to sharing information with police.

Bennett learned about the app at a conference he attended after getting a recommendation from a police chief from Wisconsin who is a friend. Bennett said he is impressed with the app and the technology in the Ring devices that can give the department another tool to combat break-ins and other crimes.

Through the app, Bennett said police will be able to engage with communities by viewing and responding to crime and safety incidents, in many cases, faster than without it.

“The video quality is really outstanding, even at night,” Bennett said.

He noted that there have been times, already, when police have been able to identify crime suspects through camera footage on Ring devices, even when they don’t break in the front door. Bennett said they have seen suspects approach the door, get no response, and then attempt to break into the residence elsewhere, such as the back.

Residents can also opt-in to information sent by the department through the app, and they have already been sharing videos from Ring and other home security devices with the department.

However, before connecting to the app, residents had to download the video and email the file to police. The app, he said, makes it easier to send. Several of the department’s detectives will be monitoring the app.

“They can get on the computer, click it and send it,” Bennett said.

Those who download the app can post photos or video directly to the app, and will be asked to identify whether the incident they are posting about is a crime, and provide the incident location, though the app states that it will not post the exact location publicly.

Those who use the app will be able to see posts up to a five-mile radius from the address they list with the app, and they can opt to receive push notifications about all posts from their neighborhood, up to a three-mile radius.

Said Bennett: “It can be a tremendous help in solving cases.”

To get the free Neighbors App by Ring on your smartphone, go to the Apple Store, the Google Play Store or the Amazon App Store to download it.