Chicago cops could have access to video from thousands of new cameras — on residents’ front doors

Police are starting a pilot program with doorbell camera company Ring, which could aid in solving crime but which raises privacy fears.

SHARE Chicago cops could have access to video from thousands of new cameras — on residents’ front doors
Chicago police are considering a partnership with video doorbell company Ring, which would let the department solicit for video evidence through a smartphone app.

Chicago police are considering a partnership with video doorbell company Ring, which would let the department solicit for video evidence through a smartphone app.

AP/ Riverside police

The Chicago Police Department will soon join forces with the video doorbell company Ring — potentially giving cops access to thousands of cameras fixed to residents’ front doors around the city.

Police have “no hesitation” to partner with Ring and will announce a pilot program soon, a Chicago police spokesman says.

“We think [Ring] has tremendous potential” to improve the department’s capabilities, said CPD spokesman Anthony Guglielmi.

But critics fear a partnership would be a dangerous and “creepy” step toward mass surveillance. The sheer scale of the doorbell-camera network hands law enforcement too much power, critics like the American Civil Liberties Union say.

If CPD joins Ring, it would be the largest department in the nation to do so.

More than 400 police departments nationwide have already partnered with the Amazon company. At least 25 Chicago suburban departments have signed on in the past year — including Arlington Heights, Cicero, Naperville and Aurora.

Guglielmi said the department met with Ring a month ago, and has been talking to other police departments about their experiences with the program. He said a pilot program will be created soon. He did not elaborate on where it would take place or for how long it would take place.

Police would be able to solicit Chicago residents for doorbell video through Ring’s social media app, Neighbors, where users share videos showing everything from package thieves to, in one case, an Englewood drive-by shooting in which a woman was struck in the head by a stray bullet.

Police departments in the program must go through Ring to ask for citizens’ video. To request a video, police must provide Ring with a case number and a limited time range and area. Ring then asks the relevant customers for consent to share the video with police.

Ring says that police cannot see customers’ identifying information, and that customers are allowed to decline or opt out of future requests. Only an owner can access the doorbell’s live video stream, which can be transmitted live to users’ smartphones.

Chicago already has the largest network of surveillance cameras in the country, numbering about 45,000 cameras, according to Guglielmi. Chicago already has its own surveillance camera registry, in which citizens and businesses feed live outdoor video to Chicago police for use in emergencies, but so far there are just a few participating homeowners because many home devises are not compatible with the city’s system, officials said.

It’s unclear how many more cameras would be added with a Ring partnership. A spokesperson for Ring declined to say how many customers it has in Chicago.

West suburban Naperville had more than 5,500 Ring customers when its department partnered with Ring in March, the Daily Southtown reported.

The Aurora Police Department joined Ring’s program in August 2018 — the first Chicago area department to do so. Aurora police have asked for and received more than a dozen videos from citizens, but so far, none has been used to prosecute a crime, according to Aurora police spokesman Paris Lewbell.

Instead of going door-to-door seeking it out, police can ask for tips and video evidence through the app, Lewbell said.

In April, a homeowner in west suburban Riverside saw someone trying to force open his front door on his Ring feed and called police. The homeowner showed the video evidence to police, but declined to press charges.

“If there was ever a video or event that displays how video doorbell systems are an important device in assisting in police investigations ... this video would be it,” Riverside Police Chief Thomas Weitzel said at the time.

Civil rights concerns

But Ed Yohnka, spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, said opening up such a large network of cameras — including in areas that currently aren’t under heavy surveillance — to police should at least get a public debate before going into practice.

“We all accept that when we walk up Michigan Avenue that we’ll be surveilled, but I don’t think we think about that when we’re in our neighborhood walking our dog,” Yohnka said.

“There’s something about this that’s creepy, in terms of a mission creep. Doorbell cameras were first marketed as a convenience for homeowners, and now they’re being used for surveillance, Yohnka said.

“Could police one day be able to turn on the camera?” Yohnka continued. “It doesn’t take much imagination to think about considering where we are now.”

Matthew Kugler, a privacy law professor at Northwestern University, believes the fact that police must request video only when they expect to find evidence and must get a user’s permission are adequate protections.

“You can easily paint the picture of a dystopia, but I don’t think this is a dystopia yet,” he said.

But Kugler said the public should be mindful of the direction society is heading if it leads to police someday having unfettered ability to monitor a camera on every street — or front door.

“I think it’s worth considering the privacy cost of that,” Kugler said, “because we don’t want to live in a world where police have direct access to that.”

The Latest
Also known for championing women and people of color in the industry, the artist will play major local festivals this summer.
“I know there’s a lot of speculation on who is going to be in what role in future years, and really it’s about figuring out how to put our players in the best position possible.”
Unions for the Chicago Sun-Times and WBEZ criticized Matt Moog, who announced he planned to leave last year but later oversaw layoffs.
Iman Bambooyani admitted to jet-setting across the country with four women and paying them thousands of dollars for sex. He’s now agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors.
A morning of very productive fishing for big fish with new site manager Justin Seibert at Hennepin and Hopper lakes allowed us to talk big fish there and fathers and sons.