How Police Collect Security Footage

For as long as there have been surveillance cameras, it’s been standard practice for law enforcement to ask homes and businesses for footage in the event of a nearby crime. Today’s abundance of Wi-Fi connected cameras has led many police departments to organize formal footage-sharing programs in a few modern ways:

Via Social Media & Apps 

Many communities take advantage of email list serves, Facebook groups or other social media apps to share hyper-local news. In fact, two leading apps designed for this purpose – Neighbors and Nextdoor – have attracted millions of users. These online forums are a logical and efficient place to share info about neighborhood crimes or suspicious activity – and that includes camera footage. 

When police join these groups, they are automatically clued in to any posted area activity. In fact, the Neighbors app is actually a product of the Amazon-owned home security company Ring, one of the leading brands of video doorbells. It’s tailor-made to facilitate the sharing of surveillance videos with neighbors and law enforcement. Ring has formed official partnerships with over 50 police departments all over the country, wherein homeowners are frequently offered Ring cameras for free or at a steeply discounted rate. 

Camera Registry Programs

Other police departments are spearheading shared surveillance efforts outside of social media. Usually this takes the form of a camera registry where private households and businesses can register their surveillance systems. If a crime occurs in the vicinity, the police can then contact camera owners and request to review their footage as soon as possible. Again, these partnerships may or may not include free or discounted cameras to participants in the program. 

Case-by-Case Sharing Vs. Open Access

Most of the partnerships described above emphasize voluntary sharing of videos only when there’s an investigation. However, police in some localities aim for a more hands-on approach. For example, one department in New Jersey has sent officers to knock on people’s doors if they don’t answer requests for footage through the camera registry. Other departments, such as those in Mobile, AL, ask individuals and businesses for direct access to their video streams. First-person access helps police monitor larger areas and respond to incidents faster, but it doesn’t allow camera owners to decide when and what to share. 

Home security feed on laptop

The Positive Side of Security Camera Sharing

Security cameras have a proven ability to deter crime and help prosecute criminals, which is exactly what they’re intended to do. In one survey of 422 burglars, 60% of respondents said that security cameras would make them choose a different target. In one notable 2016 experiment, Ring partnered with the Los Angeles Police Department to install video doorbells in 41 of 400 of Wilshire Park, California homes. Neighborhood burglaries were cut by more than half compared to the year prior.

Furthermore, social apps, groups and newsletters can be great tools in uniting and informing a community. Many people appreciate engaging or concerning neighborhood news such as suspicious activity, criminal suspects or animal sightings. Many people benefit from connections like these and feel safer in their homes as a result. 

Parenting blogger Becky Beach is one of them: “I have a Ring doorbell installed and there was a prowler outside last month,” she told us, so she shared her footage with the local police through their account on Nextdoor.com. “The police have been on our Nextdoor community for three years now and I have never felt safer.”

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Privacy Experts Describe What Could Go Wrong

Police with camera

Questions To Ask Before Sharing Your Security Videos 

If you’re thinking about joining a camera registry, publicly posting your camera footage, or accepting a free camera in exchange for granting police access, consider the following first.