Kids Off The Block (KOB), a Roseland nonprofit, has long been lauded for its giving to youth and families in need — food, clothing or refuge from the streets, in the founder’s own home.
Its giving takes a unique turn this week, as founder Diane Latiker partners with home security firm Ring to donate 1,000 video doorbells to residents in three South Side areas plagued by high crime: Roseland, Riverdale and Auburn-Gresham.
“There’s been an uptick in crime during the pandemic, as I’m sure everybody knows. We worry about safety in our community. We want to make our residents more secure in these communities that I feel need it, and Ring is the perfect fit,” said Latiker, who founded her nonprofit 16 years ago by opening up her living room to at-risk youth to curb gang violence.
“Kids Off The Block’s mission is to make communities safer. It’s also Ring’s mission. That’s where I found synergy,” said Latiker, who has been nationally recognized for her work, including being honored as a CNN hero and one of L’Oreal Paris’ Women of Worth.
The partnership, launching Thursday, is open to applicants from those three areas. Upon acceptance, residents receive the device, installation and a lifetime subscription for video recording and storage, free; and of course, the yard sign.
“Ring very much believes in Kids Off The Block’s mission to support families and youth in Chicago. We think their mission aligns very closely with our own. Our hope really is to support them and advance our own mission of making Chicago safer,” Leila Rouhi, president of the Amazon-owned company that pioneered the video doorbell system, told the Chicago Sun-Times.
It is a system not without controversy. The Ring doorbell has been at the center of criticism by civil liberties groups who see potential privacy abuses in the company’s willingness to cooperate with law enforcement agencies in crime investigations. Police are allowed to request and receive footage from customer doorbells, but only upon customer consent.
More than 400 police departments nationwide have already partnered with Ring, including Chicago and at least 25 suburbs. Some in city government, like Ald. Ray Lopez (15th), had pushed the Chicago Police Department to partner with Ring, in the wake of the doorbells helping apprehend vandals who targeted his home and office last fall.
CPD joined Ring’s hyperlocal social networking app, Neighbors, where customers can share video of neighborhood incidents.
“We built ‘Neighbors’ for our customers, not for law enforcement. We’ve also built it with accountability and transparency in mind,” said Rouhi, whose firm additionally donated $20,000 to Latiker’s group, to repair its van, and support its youth Technology Entrepreneur Center.
“We believe video has played and will continue to play an integral role in advancing justice and community safety, and we do enable our customers to share videos if they choose to. We believe the video request tool is a privacy-protected way to give our customers control over their devices and their personal information,” Rouhi added.
The curious partnership is par for the course with Latiker, who is used to breaking the mold. She, her husband and a couple of volunteers made headlines early in the pandemic, when they began daily driving across the city, doling out food and coronavirus information and PPE to the homeless and other vulnerable populations.
“I was confronted by someone on this, who said, ‘You are giving all these devices to residents and their privacy is going to be invaded.’ I said I love that Ring is putting the control in their hands. If they want to share their video or not, it’s on them,” Latiker said.
“They can do what they want to do with their video. I’d rather for my neighbor to be secure and have peace of mind. The benefits outweigh whatever the controversy, to me,” she said.
Her congressional representatives support her, expressing little concern as to warnings by the ACLU of Illinois about the growing Big Brother network of surveillance cameras. Chicago’s more than 29,000 public and private cameras — in a 12-year-old surveillance system — have become the largest in the nation.
“It’s important to remember that the health of our communities relies not only on government, but on the consistent investment and involvement of the business community,” U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Ill.) said. “We thank Ring for their collaboration with community partners to make our neighborhoods safer.”
Added U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.): “I am proud to see these two organizations stepping up. It is heartening to see corporations working with community partners to help make our neighborhoods safer.”