Crime Fighting at Your Front Door

Nothing is perfect. Can we all agree on that? Especially when we’re talking about all the digital technology that surrounds us these days.

But when deciding whether a technological advancement is worthwhile shouldn’t more weight be given to the amount of good it can do and not to the possible misuse of it?

Case in point:  Privacy advocates expressed serious worry recently when it was learned that Ring, one of the nation’s largest home security companies, announced it is now cooperating with more than 400 police departments, nationwide, and will share videos from customer’s doorbell cameras to help solve crimes. The words “Big Brother” were uttered more than once.

Let’s all take a breath here and consider, with an open mind, whether this technology is making our lives better (and safer) or is it getting the better of us?

Just One Brand Of Doorbell Cam

Doorbell cameras from firms like Nest, RemoBell, Ring or ADT have been growing in popularity. They are fairly inexpensive, beginning at just $100 or so, easy to install and give homeowners a videotaped record of anyone who approaches their front door or other areas of their property. These devices have a built-in microphone and allow homeowners to speak to visitors (or would-be criminals) via a cell phone app, even if the owner is thousands of miles away. Some of the devices also have a feature that allows the owner to remotely unlock their door so family or friends can enter when they aren’t home. This is part of a modern-day lifestyle for countless Americans.

What these doorbell cameras capture on video can be an obvious crime fighting tool for law enforcement, another way for police to identify criminals and keep communities safe. In Washington. D.C. recently investigators were dumbfounded at the random street stabbing of a young woman who was out walking a dog. The fatal incident terrified the neighborhood, but police were able to quickly arrest the suspect thanks to video from a nearby doorbell camera.

Yet those focused on privacy issues are distressed about ever increasing surveillance in the U.S.. Evan Greer, with the advocacy group Fight for the Future calls the doorbell cam industry a “business model based in paranoia.” He told the Washington Post, “It’s a privately run surveillance dragnet built outside the democratic process, but they’re marketing it as just another product, just another app.”

Legal types fear that residents with doorbell cameras could be forced to become police informants. Civil rights activists worry the cameras will contribute to racial profiling and community suspicion of minority citizens.

There was a case in Maryland in which a homeowner who lived near a middle school spied two young black youths knocking on her door one late October afternoon. She captured the video, flagged it as “suspicious” and posted it with this note to the neighbors: “Early trick or treat, or are they up to no good?” The boys were not wearing costumes but were clearly heard several times saying, “Trick or Treat.”  They were seen peacefully leaving when no one answered the door. The incident may have caused some to think their neighbor was expressing racial bias, but others likely viewed it as kids being kids and no cause for concern.

Want to Know Who’s There?

Before we get too far out into the thought-police weeds here understand that the trick-or-treat message went to only a few of the homeowner’s neighbors who happened to have the same brand of doorbell camera and the specific Neighborhood app to go with it. Juxtapose that with how police in D.C. used doorbell video to find and lock up a suspected murderer. Which event should be given more attention? Which suspects caused a larger danger to the public? What if there had been no doorbell video, would the D.C. stabber have gone unidentified and killed more people?

Also understand that Ring shares customer’s video with police only – I repeat only – after the homeowner approves of the video release. What’s happening here isn’t unauthorized arbitrary surveillance. Law enforcement can’t see live streams of video from a homeowner’s doorbell camera. They can only go back and ask permission to see what they hope will be a real time video record of a crime being committed.

I respect the concern of living in a society where there are too many cameras. But, let’s face it, that ship has sailed. Everyone who carries a cell phone has a camera, nearly every public space is outfitted with security cameras these days. No one should go out feeling they are immune from having their image captured. And that includes the criminal element.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have a doorbell camera. My local police department is not part of this new partnership, but you can bet if I capture a criminal trying to break into my house my first step is to call the cops and give them that video.

*Note: to check to see if your police dept. shares doorbell video click here



  1. Diane Dimond on September 9, 2019 at 9:12 am

    Reader Jerome Paul Shea writes:

    Hi Diane,

    Basically I agree with your column about doorbell cameras, neighborhood watches, etc. Vigilance is a good thing, “if you see something, do something (or tell someone)” and all that. But I do worry about the attitude that this might encourage…or feed.

    The Sheas belong to a neighborhood watch or alert or some such thing. It is kind of a localized facebook. But a couple of reports lately are “concerning.” In one, the word went out on trash pick-up day that a fellow was going up and down the street LOOKING INTO THE RECYCLE BINS! It was clear to us, that the (poor?) fellow was looking for aluminum cans to recycle for money. Not a BFD, IMHO. Then today there was an alert about a suspicious car cruising the neighborhood and stopping frequently, driven by a middle aged white man with a clipboard! We are almost positive that that was our friend, Pete Zollinger, canvassing the neighborhood for the West Side Democrats (Diana does the same; it’s canvasing season). Thank goodness Peter isn’t black! I will bet the rent that someone has already called the cops about Pete Zollinger.

    Yes, often it’s a close judgment call, but I fear that these things will feed the paranoia that is already rampant. I want to say to my neighbors, “Get a grip, folks! Most people are not out to get you.”


  2. Nancy Robel on September 9, 2019 at 11:03 am

    Like everything else out there, it can be abused. But if it helps stop or solve a crime or deters a crook from targeting your home, I’m all for it. Video evidence is a solid tool for police who are under staffed and usually reactive to calls for help. I go back to still having the individual right to choose how to protect your property.

    And if the two young boys are legally contacted because of a citizen concern and they are innocent of anything suspicious, they’ll be counseled to stop and be on their way. But if the police find they are carrying a window punch, gun or other burglary tools, someone may have just prevented a home burglary or worse.

    In a country where crimes are being reduced to minimal punishments and criminals do less and less incarceration, many crooks are becoming emboldened to take their chances committing crimes. I’ll let the courts figure out if my video was used properly. In the meantime, I’ll be watching.

  3. Diane Dimond on September 9, 2019 at 11:46 am

    Reader Starebear@dotheysitwoods writes:

    Nope. I say have as many camera’s out there as possible.
    If you are not doing anything wrong, you shouldn’t have a problem.

  4. Diane Dimond on September 9, 2019 at 12:00 pm

    Reader Barby Woods writes:

    I have a Ring and love it! ‼️

  5. Diane Dimond on September 9, 2019 at 12:01 pm

    Reader Dexter Padgitt writes:

    dog here

  6. Diane Dimond on September 9, 2019 at 12:01 pm

    Reader John Bailey writes:

    Ring is helping to bloat the police-surveillance state. Buy a different brand.

    • Diane Dimond on September 9, 2019 at 12:02 pm

      Diane Dimond replies:

      John, isn’t a doorbell cam a doorbell cam? What difference does it make which company you buy from – they all have the potential to give video to law enforcement.

      • Diane Dimond on September 9, 2019 at 12:18 pm

        John Bailey replies to Diane Dimond:

        Anyone can give their video to the cops after the fact.
        Ring is *promoting* the expansion of the surveillance police state.

        • Diane Dimond on September 10, 2019 at 4:49 pm

          Reader Joya Colucci Lord replies;

          I don’t know if I understand your comment, John Bailey. What’s the difference? My usual advice to people who want to purchase technology is to buy a brand that has good reviews, fits the price point you can afford, and (maybe the most important factor) provides excellent customer support. If that’s Ring, GREAT! If it’s another brand, also great. What “different brand” are you suggesting?

          • Diane Dimond on September 10, 2019 at 4:50 pm

            John Bailey replies to Joya Colucci Lord:

            1. Advice is autobiographical. It usually reflects the experience, priorities, ethics, etc of the person giving it.

            2. Notice that ZERO of the points you offer in your advice have anything to do with awareness of the larger picture, our place in it, or the ultimate and larger outcomes (the ecology) of the choice. Your advice is 100% self-focused. And, this is the problem basis of many if not most of our larger social problems today – a self-involved and ecologically unconcerned paradigm.

            I’m a (mostly) retired security professional who used to protect Fortune 200 families and teach at America’s premiere bodyguard school. I’m a big fan of PRIVATE video security systems.
            I’m also a reader of history, and I’m NOT a fan, at all, of government-business “partnerships”, and particularly not with law enforcement. The times and places in history where these things became cozy did not go well. That’s not “paranoia”; it’s very consistent historical FACT.

            Ultimately, everyone should make their own choices based on their own criteria. And, FIRST, they may want to examine their criteria to make sure they’re REALLY servicing their actual values.

            Or, not. I mean, everyone seems fine that they drove the Main St. Mom & Pop out of business to get cheap plastic crap from Wal Mart – and in the process shoving themselves under a virtual monopoly provider – including of FOOD. (morons)

            What brand do I recommend?

            For my own security reasons, I wouldn’t, except to an actual client.
            My recommendation is to check reviews, and to google the company to see what hidden issues there may be – like ownership, or documented history of something like … employees in Ukraine spying on customers, for instance.

            I would also make the professional recommendation of googling “hacking [system brand]”, and “defcon [system brand]”, etc. to see that you aren’t really just providing the neighborhood techno-creep with a more convenient way to listen in on your domestic disputes and travel plans.

            Here are a couple of articles you may want to check out.


            /// Other recommendations include NEVER sharing videos or still images from your system WITH ANYONE. This shows the exact coverage (and therefore non-coverage) of your system. If you do that you may as well throw the system away because you’re rendering it nearly useless. This includes sharing with police. Require a subpoena if they want footage – and know that once you share it you’re going to NEED to re-sort your entire coverage strategy.

  7. Diane Dimond on September 9, 2019 at 12:19 pm

    Bill McColl writes:

    Agree, Diane Dimond Our not-so-friendly (we found out later) neighbors used video from their doorbell camera to suggest my wife was a “porch poacher.” My wife had gotten one of their packages by mistake and went over to drop it off…while there, she saw a couple of her packages were mistakenly sent to the neighbor. So she took them. The so-called “neighbor” then posted nothing but her taking the packages and posted it on Ring’s website. Some of the comments included how terrible it was that this “old lady” was a thief.

  8. Diane Dimond on September 9, 2019 at 12:21 pm

    Reader Bob Burtis writes:

    Ring is with the Govt.
    As Reagan said
    The most dangerous words are
    I am from the Govt. And i am hear to help.

  9. Diane Dimond on September 10, 2019 at 4:51 pm

    Reader Steve Robel writes:

    Diane Dimond you are absolutely right. Further more, why would one not want to give the footage to LE. Especially if it would assist on solving a homicide, rape etc. Over the years, video footage has assisted LE on solving violent crimes. // We can go on and on regarding police surveillance and the criminal justice system. The bottom line is the cameras and videos we have today do and will continue to assist LE in solving crimes. They are a great tool for LE and most law abiding citizen’s have no problem letting LE have access to their videos.

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