Law enforcement agencies love their tools, and the latest addition to the Janesville police toolbox is a surveillance system called Ring.
Through a new partnership with Ring, which is owned by Amazon, police have turned to residents to help them surveil the community and potentially gather evidence to make arrests and prosecute cases. Police insist no resident is compelled, except under a rare court order, to give them video from Ring’s doorbell devices. It’s a voluntary arrangement, police say.
We typically jump on board with any idea that helps police do their jobs, but we’re withholding the applause on this one. Our biggest concern is with how Ring uses fear tactics to sell more devices.
Polls show many people consider the world more dangerous than ever, despite criminal activity near historic lows. We see these fears expressed in parents’ refusal to allow their kids to walk to school, their desire to keep kids indoors instead of playing in the neighborhood and their rash judgments about “suspicious” people on their streets. Against this backdrop, Ring seeks to carve out its niche.
The company taps into people’s fears through a software application marketed as a neighborhood watch for the digital era. Amazon posted a job opening this year for a “managing editor” to work on “an exciting new opportunity within Ring to manage a team of news editors who deliver breaking crime news alerts to our neighbors.” The strategy is obvious: Ring wins customers by making people believe they need Ring to protect themselves.
Unfortunately, Ring’s partnership with Janesville police only adds credibility to Ring’s marketing scheme.
We’ve highlighted in previous editorials a disconnect between reality and people’s perceptions of crime. Crime fell in 2018 to 3,102 serious crimes per 100,000 Janesville residents, the second-lowest level in 20 years, not exactly a situation that begs Janesville residents to run out and buy Ring devices.
In April, we asked Police Chief Dave Moore for his thoughts about Janesville’s low crime rate but high level of fear, and he partly blamed electronic media for fueling misconceptions.
“We have a circumstance where we can have a front-row, real-time view of crime occurring throughout the nation. What this allows is for crime not to be some abstract construct but a very real experience,” Moore told The Gazette in April.
Ring is helping provide that “front-row, real-time view of crime,” which might seem like a good thing when it helps the police make an arrest. But if the long-term effect is to get people to adopt a darker view of the world, the partnership with Ring becomes self-defeating. It doesn’t bring residents closer together and encourages them to treat each other with suspicion.