301.519.9237 exdirector@nesaus.org

7.10.22 – Oklahoman 

Ring doorbell cameras being used by police, but mere presence may be best crime deterrent ·

Thieves stole tools and equipment from the house next door, rifled through a van down the street, and basically plundered Summerfield Drive in Edmond, and Daniel Brink’s doorbell camera caught a glimpse of them, preserving it in a murky video clip timestamped 3:12 a.m.

Brink thinks his Ring doorbell camera — a device and part of a system increasingly relied on by police — did more than record the burglars. He said he thinks it actually protected his property by its mere presence. The prowlers strolled down the middle of the dark street and walked past his house without a second look.

“As they approached my home, they saw my Ring garage floodlight camera and never set foot on my property,” said Brink, a forensic consultant. “My Ring camera has a prerecorded message that says, ‘You are being recorded.’

“The group consisted of about three to five people. A lot of vehicles were ransacked that evening. I do think that our Ring cameras spared our home and cars.”

Daniel Brink says the Ring doorbell cameras at his home not only record criminal mischief but deter it.

Ring isn’t the only brand of doorbell camera, but may be the most common because it’s one of the least expensive. The Edmond Police Department started participating with Ring in 2020. In Bartlesville earlier this year, the Washington County Community Council started offering to install Ring cameras for people who can’t afford them.

Homeowners weary of porch pirates, trespassers and others committing petty crimes, which, of course, aren’t petty to the victims, continue to install doorbell cameras and other smart security lights and cameras around their houses. The Nextdoor app has become a kind of clearinghouse for neighbors helping neighbors keep tabs on neighborhoods.

That’s where Brink took his video clip, to Nextdoor, along with this explanation:

Daniel Brink shows off his Ring doorbell system and how he can operate it from his smart phone at his home in Edmond.

“Vehicle broken into. We never really have these types of crimes in our area, until last night. At 3:12 a.m. three suspects broke into a vehicle and stole money from a hardworking family. Luckily, (I had) installed Ring cameras and they immediately avoided my property but continued to check (for) car doors that (were) not locked etc.”

Neighbors weighed in, several saying their cars were broken into and whose belongings were stolen.

Several said they’d reported the prowlers to police. It was enough to get Brink, whose background is in law enforcement and criminal investigation, to “propose a plan of action and arrange a possible gathering,” which is in the works.

“One of my motorcycles was stolen in 2020 and I managed to recover it,” he said. “Unfortunately, society and behavior is changing in our community. Gone are the good old days (when you could) leave equipment lying in or on the front of your property.”

Long gone, judging from the prevalence of burglary, pilfering and other shenanigans on Nextdoor.

Part of Daniel Brink's Ring doorbell camera recording system.

Police departments can use Ring footage to help investigations

The Oklahoma City Police Department, in 2019, became one of more than 2,000 departments to partner with Ring “to not only solve crimes, but to provide the community with real-time, local crime and safety information,” the department announced on Facebook.

Oklahoma City police invited people to sign up for the free Ring Neighbors app, part of Ring’s Neighbors Public Safety Service. Having a Ring camera is not required to use the app.

“The Neighbors Ring App allows people to post videos, photos, and comments about things going on around their home or in their neighborhood,” Capt. Valerie Littlejohn said. “Anyone with the app can look through the posts.”

Littlejohn said it is only a supplement for keeping tabs on criminal activity, not a fix in itself.

“We do go through the app to see if there are any posts about crimes or suspicious activity in an area, but there is always a possibility of something being missed. Therefore, it is always best for someone to call 911 to report a crime or any suspicious activity,” she said.

Ring camera surveillance can help with investigations of crime, Littlejohn said, but she didn’t know of “any specific cases at this time which have been used in court. (On our) Facebook page, we have posted several videos from porch cameras capturing a crime. Several of these posts have helped determine the identity of the suspect(s) in the video.”

Not all burglars are automatically deterred when they see a camera. Some have attempted to cover or destroy cameras before burglarizing a residence, and some simply proceed with their crimes in spite of the cameras, according to police.

Daniel Brink shows off his Ring doorbell system he installed at his home in Edmond.

Social justice criticism, privacy concerns and Ring doorbell cameras

Private porch surveillance and people working with police have come under fire from social justice organizations, according to Consumer Reports, which last fall provided guidance on what to do if police ask to see video.

Groups like Fight for the Future and Color of Change have made claims that law enforcement programs unfairly target communities of color, and have lobbied Consumer Reports to rescind their recommendations of Ring products, according to Consumer Reports.

In response, Ring told Consumer Reports its technology is used in diverse communities and that all users must agree to community guidelines that include rules against “racial profiling, discrimination, hate speech, and referencing individuals based solely on race or other personal attributes.”

Then there are general privacy concerns. Wide-angle Ring cameras record more than just what happens on a porch or driveway. Neighbors’ homes are viewable, as well as people walking or driving near a house on a public street or sidewalk, whether or not they’re up to no good.

“If Ring doorbells have reduced crime, that is good. But, it has come at the expense of an invasion of privacy,” said Mitch Rankin, who is wary of how ubiquitous they seem to have become in his Edmond neighborhood. “At my current house, I have no security cameras or Ring doorbell cameras. But most all of my neighbors do, including cameras in their back yard that pick up my back yard and porch.”

“If I let a dog out in the middle of the night, I am greeted with a little red light that turns on, from across two yards, as I walk out. I hope I look good at 2 a.m. for my neighbors.”

A little loss of privacy might be helpful in some situations, such as when pranksters are recorded pulling stunts, said Brandi Wolff, who lives just southwest of downtown Edmond. She mentioned doorbell cameras catching a prank called the “Orbeez challenge,” driven by social media, involving toy Orbeez Guns, which shoot gel balls.

“In the Grove (neighborhood in northwest Oklahoma City), there is a group of teenagers driving around shooting Orbeez guns at kids and adults in their own yards,” Wolff said of the prank, which has been mentioned more than a few times by metro-area Nextdoor members in recent weeks. “One mother said they easily could have been mistaken for real guns and almost made her grab hers in self defense.”

Video could help identify pranksters, she said.

“These teenagers have been caught on several other doorbell cameras as well. With recent events surrounding guns and shootings, these kids could hurt someone or get seriously hurt themselves,” Wolff said.

Despite that possible positive, Rankin is still concerned over the loss of privacy, and not just because of the video cameras.

Daniel Brink's home on Summerfield Drive in Edmond, which he and others say was pillaged by thieves in the wee hours of the morning recently, and detected by doorbell cameras.

“Many of them (have) microphones as well that can hear what we say and do,” Rankin said. “I know this because in passing our neighbors will mention they saw or heard something we were doing while they were gone on their cellphone Ring app.”

“We no longer really feel comfortable in my backyard and my wife and kids don’t play in the driveway drawing chalk pictures anymore because it’s just a strange and uncomfortable feeling knowing that my neighbors are likely watching and listening to us on their cell phone.”

Rankin said he gets it: People want to keep tabs on their property and keep a watchful eye on the neighborhood.

“But I would prefer this happen with people being outside more, walking across the street and talking with your neighbor, not spying on your Ring app,” he said.

As for Brink, he said it takes more than the advent of doorbell cameras to tamp down property crime in a neighborhood: It takes neighbors and caution.

“My background of military and law enforcement all over the world has taught me valuable lessons in life,” said Brink, a South African and former police officer, severely injured in 2005 while working as a guard in the war in Iraq. “This group of thugs decided to ransack Summerfield Drive.”

While on his porch that morning, he said, “I was alerted by one of my neighbors while enjoying his morning coffee … that his van was broken into. I immediately opened the Ring application and saw the culprits. My message (is) to take necessary precautions and lock your vehicles and home.”

Daniel Brink

Senior Business Writer Richard Mize has covered housing, construction, commercial real estate, and related topics for the newspaper and Oklahoman.com since 1999. Contact him at rmize@oklahoman.com.