LocationAlhambra , CA United States
Nicole has lived in Alhambra for 10-years. Until recently she had considered her neighborhood a safe one but after logging into popular social media platforms, she no longer thinks so.
“When I first moved in, I thought it was pretty safe but then I started following the Alhambra Police Department Facebook page and I noticed that my neighborhood was one of those where petty theft and smash and grabs were happening in the city,” she said.
But it wasn’t just the Facebook page or crime alerts sent out by the Alhambra Police Department that concerned her. Earlier this year, one of her neighbors found a loaded gun in a trash can located in the alley off her backyard. Along with this incident, she noticed scratches on her back door, which Nicole describes as looking like someone was trying to break in.
“I just started to feel vulnerable after that,” she told Alhambra Source.
Her partial solution was to purchase a video doorbell. The one she purchased was manufactured by Ring which has the leading share in this part of the home security market and possibly has the leading social platform for crime alerts with its Neighbors app. Nicole’s purchase of the video doorbell coincided with the Alhambra Police Department’s partnership with Ring, the Amazon-owned company, which was announced in early June.
Neighbors by Ring is a combination social media app and crime alert app that allows users to report crimes and suspicious activity, look for lost pets and even announce coyote sightings.
Neighbors is a free mobile-only app that can be downloaded by anyone – you don’t need to own a Ring product to use it. Users opt-in to get notifications within a specific radius of their home and also have the ability to make alerts that will be visible to their neighbors whose radius also coincides with their own. Alert categories include Crime, Safety, Suspicious, Unknown Visitor and Lost Pet. All user activity on the app is anonymous.
Some may compare this type of activity to platforms with heavy crime alert notifications such as Nextdoor or even Facebook groups. But what makes the Neighbors app compatible with the Alhambra Police Department is that users can submit video and photos from their Ring cameras as evidence directly to officers – which the department can then use to pursue cases.
Other popular apps include Citizen which collects crime and incident alerts from 911 calls within a radius set by the user, then notifies them the distance their mobile device is from the alleged crime and provides updates on whether or not there are officers in pursuit. Citizen also has a user-generated photo and video publishing component similar to Neighbors by Ring.
Another popular crime tracking platform is Nixel by Everbridge. According to the Nixel website, users opt in by texting a number connected to their city or local agency and then begin receiving SMS alerts, email alerts and app notifications. According to the Nixel website, users can choose to opt in to alert types such as Severe Weather Events, Evacuations, Safety Hazards, Security Threats, Facilities Problems, Employee Notifications, and IT/Telecom Disruptions.
Detective Debbie Gomez, Sergeant of Investigations is one of the administrators of the Neighbors app for Alhambra. When she makes a request for footage through the app, Ring sends out the alert to the designated neighborhood. “Let’s say there was a robbery within a residential area. We can send out notifications to people that live in that area a notification that says ‘We had a robbery this day and this time. Please check your ring videos. If you have anything within that timeframe, please send it to us,’” she said regarding how Alhambra Police uses the platform.
The Neighbors app account that Alhambra’s department coordinates has only a few more features than the one used by residents. Neighbors users are always identified as “Neighbor” when they make an alert. But with a police department account, the identity of the publisher is public.
Though Alhambra Police Department started using the app this year, this is not the first time Alhambra has partnered with Ring. Last year Alhambra coordinated a Ring doorbell rebate program for residents. “Teaming up with Ring Home Security allows us to help our community members feel safer in their home,” said Alhambra Council Member Jeff Maloney in the announcement. At the June Community Meeting this year organized by Alhambra Police Department, Ring products were being given away in a raffle.
This level of outreach by the City of Alhambra and the Alhambra Police Department comes amid reports of rising crime in the city. According to a monthly statistics report published in June by the Alhambra Police Department and available on the city’s website, there has been an 11% increase in arrests this year versus last year with five more months left in 2019. Some residents have shared concerns over the rising rates including Jackie, who has lived in the city for eight-years.
For Jackie, checking the Neighbors app and looking at the live video feed of her porch has become routine. During an interview with Alhambra Source, her phone was buzzing with notifications from the app. But in her case, she has a reason.
She recalls that she purchased a Ring doorbell to get a restraining order on an ex-boyfriend who was allegedly harassing her. “One of the nights I opened the door to tell him to leave me alone. He forced his way in but I had no proof of that.” She reported the incident to the police but since there was no proof of forced entry and no witnesses to see the incident, it did not lead to anything. This event made Jackie uncomfortable in her own home.
Soon after that incident she purchased the Ring Doorbell and began collecting footage. She says that she found her ex peeping through her window and vandalizing her home. On another occasion, she found him stopping by again and with the evidence collected by the footage – he was arrested. “I called Alhambra Police Department later and they caught him coming back around.”
Though some footage submitted through the app leads to real bookings, not every piece of footage does. Jackie sometimes catches her neighbor sweeping trash into her driveway and Nicole, mentioned earlier in this story, sometimes gets alerts that the neighborhood cat is sunbathing in her front porch.
Though Jackie’s experience can be viewed as a success story for Neighbors app users, she still thinks about the issue of privacy. According to a Ring spokesperson, who declined to be named, the company is working to make sure to never infringe on user information. “Users decide what footage is shared to the Neighbors app, and whether or not they want to share any footage or information with local law enforcement,” the spokesperson said.
But despite this attempt to ensure privacy, users, like Jackie, believe that assurances don’t necessarily safeguard her privacy amid mass high profile data breaches such as the 2017 Equifax incident and data breaches of U.S. government agencies.
“If hackers can hack into big time government accounts and agencies what makes you think that some creeper can’t just be like ‘hey, this person walks around in their underwear every so often.’ Hackers can hack into anything and it wouldn’t take much,” she said.
Today, both Jackie and Nicole, who asked that only their first names be used for this article, have security cameras inside and outside their home. “I’m very uncomfortable having it in my living room but that is the only way to know if somebody comes in,” said Jackie.