Study: Ring cameras may not be as good a crime fighting tool as advertised

Updated: Jun. 26, 2019 at 1:57 PM CDT
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - Ring doorbell cameras provide great video for our newscasts and for local police departments, they’re supposed to provide a deterrent to crime.

“It will deter crime as criminals learn that the security systems learn are widespread in our community,” Mountain Brook Police Chief Ted Cook said when his city rolled out their program encouraging its homeowners to buy and install the cameras and link them to the Ring network.

“We have an opportunity to really create a network of security and that’s our goal,” said Mt. Brook Mayor Stewart Welch.

The city of Oxford’s doing much the same thing, even giving away a camera and all with the hope that a promised reduction in crime follows.

Ring says its experiments in giving out cameras to neighborhoods in Los Angeles in 2016 and in Newark, NJ last year both showed big decreases in burglaries by at least 50%. But a new study in the MIT Technology review raises questions about those numbers. It says LAPD figures show a drop in burglaries, but not as big as Ring claimed, and says burglaries actually fell by more in neighborhoods in Newark that didn’t get the camera giveaways. MIT says it’s hard to compare their data to Ring’s because the sample size is too small and Ring won’t release its data.

“I certainly wouldn’t put that in and believe it’s going to solve all your security problems, I don’t think it will,” says security consultant Michael Silva.

Silva says just getting a video of a porch pirate or even a burglar is no guarantee your case is more likely to be solved---first because you may or may not get a good look at the bad guy.

“You may not get an image that’s recognizable," Silva warns. “If you do get an image, in most major urban areas most police departments aren’t going to devote resources to investigate that. Most police departments don’t have the resources to do that sort of thing anyway. So if you get a usable picture that may or may not be useful in helping you identify the person and even if you do the police may or may not show an interest in following up on it.”

But Silva still recommends devices like a Ring camera if you’re realistic about what it can and can’t do.

“There’s two things here: there’s the theft, burglary, vandalism threat that’s one thing,” Silva advises. “The other is your personal safety of someone knocking on your door and you encountering those people. So the fact that you have a tool that allows you to communicate with people and identify people before you open your door, that provides a benefit and a level of security. You’re talking about a couple hundred dollar purchase. So for most people, I think it’s a reasonable investment for that purpose alone---the ability to identify people before you open the door. Buy it for that and if it gives you any other recordings or benefits that’s just a bonus.”

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