As home surveillance market booms, concerns about privacy and racial profiling increase

Data pix.

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. --  Smart home security is a billion dollar business and growing fast.   More homes than ever before have video surveillance and more police departments are teaming up with security companies like Ring.

“When the detectives showed up and I said I had video it was all they could do to keep from laughing,” said theft victim Paul Cauley.

Using Cauley's Ring camera footage, police in Indianapolis arrested a ladder thief just a couple of weeks following that crime.

“The only thing that could have been any better is if he left his DNA here,” said Cauley.

“It’s the best thing going right now with cameras all the way around,” said Ring user James Kingery.

James bought his Ring doorbell after crooks broke into his truck in Greenfield during a crime spree in September where dozens of cars were hit.

Police say surveillance from a neighbor led to criminal charges against Carl Mays Junior and two juveniles.

“It’s a lot of easier these days to get usable video footage that you can make identifications with,” said Greenfield police Lt. JD Fortner.

Despite those two cases, it’s not clear if those cameras and partnerships are actually solving crimes.

Greenfield, like all police departments, doesn't track the specific number of crimes solved by video surveillance.  Still, police do think cameras are a great tool for crime deterrence and prosecution.

“If a case has to go to a jury, with television the way it is, everyone is expecting to see video and we want to do the best job putting the case together,” said Fortner.

Greenfield police is one of close to a dozen law enforcement agencies across Indiana and nearly 600 departments nationwide that have partnered with Ring.

Greenfield has also asked residents to signup online and register their home cameras with the city to help streamline the search for videos when a crime is committed.

“We want to build partnerships with the community people who live here, so they feel like they’re safe.  They also get involved in how the process works,” said Fortner.

“New technologies can be a great tool, but they can also lead to unintended consequences,” said ACLU of Indiana executive director Jane Henegar.

While some doorbell camera videos do in fact show crimes, like porch pirates stealing packages, many shared videos show innocent people accused of simply acting suspiciously.

“Mass surveillance often raises issues regarding racial profiling and we have to be vigilant about that,” said Henegar.

That's why the ACLU and dozens of other civil rights groups have questioned the ethics of police departments partnering with and thereby endorsing a private company like Amazon, which owns Ring.

Amazon also recently announced it may add facial recognition to Ring cameras to help law enforcement.

“It’s promoting fear as a way of selling a product,” said Henegar.

Those concerns, of course, haven’t stopped a growing number of people from installing home surveillance and sharing videos with police and their neighbors.

“It stops a lot of thievery,” said Kingery.

“In this day and age if you don’t have this, what can I say?  My goodness gracious you need to have this,” said Cauley.

Notice: you are using an outdated browser. Microsoft does not recommend using IE as your default browser. Some features on this website, like video and images, might not work properly. For the best experience, please upgrade your browser.