Last month we talked about the way the widespread use of remote doorbell cameras and the technology associated with them are changing suburban life. Cameras such as Amazon Ring, Google Nest, and others are showing up on more and more homes. But it’s not just the individual cameras making a difference. Networks of neighbors are collecting in online forums supporting the technology to share videos, pictures and information. They also frequently collaborate with law enforcement to solve crimes.
This week we see one real-world example of this phenomenon covered in the Baltimore Sun. The Baltimore suburb of Patterson Park now has more than 500 cameras active all across their neighborhood, with neighbors interacting with each other and with law enforcement as I described above. Arch McKown, safety chairman of the Patterson Park Neighborhood Association, has been coordinating many of these activities and describes the results for reporters. The bottom line is that burglaries and other property crimes have plummeted and they have helped police identify and convict some of the worst offenders.
McKown’s devices are part of a broad, informal network of about 500 home cameras operating around Patterson Park. Neighbors regularly share images from their Amazon Ring, Nest or other home cameras that have become increasingly common and capture activity on porches, stoops and alleyways. The residents compare images of package thieves, carjackers, street robbers and burglars.
In some cases, the group has been able to track a criminal’s path through the neighborhood, McKown said. Neighbors’ observations have sometimes contributed to arrests. In other instances, neighbors have worked to intervene with young culprits without involving police.
As burglaries plummet around Patterson Park, police say the community watch has helped.
Neighbors often see the same faces and see patterns, McKown said.
The police credit this digital neighborhood watch system with being directly responsible for dozens of crimes being solved and tangentially involved in the resolution of hundreds of others. The police are thrilled with this community involvement, describing it not only as a crime-solving operation but also as a deterrent. When the word gets around that an entire neighborhood is under 24/7 interactive surveillance, the gangs tend to notice.
As a bonus, the usual people who complain about too much electronic surveillance and a growing “police state” have no basis to carp about this system. The police don’t have direct access to the cameras nor can they just grab up all the video that’s taken and store it. It’s a voluntary system where neighbors proactively offer up the video footage if it relates to a crime committed on their block. In the vast majority of cases, the cops never need to bother with a warrant.
In other instances, McKown reports that minor crimes have been resolved without even getting the police involved. When younger hooligans are filmed causing problems and neighbors recognize them, residents have been able to go speak to the parents. Some may call that “shaming,” but if mom and dad are able to use the evidence to get their kid under control, all the better.
In a city with the crime problems that Baltimore is wrestling with, there are always politicians talking about how the police have to work to be more involved with the community. Well, here’s one way that not only can happen but is already happening. Baltimore needs far more of this, not less. And other cities should take a cue from this example and encourage people to do the same.