Amazon’s doorbell-camera acquisition, Ring, has captured a large segment of the home security market. Part of its growth is due to its long list of law enforcement partnerships. Coupled with the rollout of its companion app, Neighbors, Ring has been handing out cameras to cops… who then hand out these complimentary cameras to local homeowners.
Strings are attached — some explicit and some implicit. The implicit strings connect cops to citizens: the assumption recipients of discounted or free cameras will allow officers to access recordings without having to bother the courts with a warrant request.
The explicit strings tie up cops, making them brand ambassadors for Ring and its ever-expanding network of cameras. If cops want cheap cameras and the access to recordings those might provide, they have to become Ring’s unofficial spokespeople.
Public records show Ring has required police departments to assign employees to act as press and social media liaisons in the new partnership with Ring. Ring controls PR efforts and public statements. It also dangles its wifi-connected carrot: more signups for Ring’s Neighbors app means more free cameras for cops.
This unhealthy relationship between Ring and law enforcement is detailed in a recent LA Times article by Johana Bhuiyan. Thousands of dollars of cameras were handed out to LAPD officers in exchange for their promotion and distribution of Ring’s products.
Ring provided at least 100 LAPD officers with one or more free devices or discount codes and encouraged them to recommend the company’s web-connected doorbells and security cameras, emails reviewed by The Times reveal. In more than 15 cases, emails show that officers who received free gadgets or discounts promoted Ring products to fellow police officers or members of the public.
Officers asked for cameras, passing them on to other officers, friends and family members, as well as local homeowners. As more devices were activated, Ring sent emails congratulating the most proactive officers and promising even more free gear if this continued.
This would be problematic even without potential violations of LAPD guidelines. This is Ring using a government agency as a distribution center and advertising agency. And this is a government agency willingly performing both of those tasks in exchange for even more Ring brand evangelism.
But this back-and-forth, along with exchanges of activations for more free products, seemingly violates the LAPD’s policies. However, it appears Ring and the officers were cognizant of the guidelines and worked together to ensure they weren’t violated.
LAPD rules restrict the acceptance of gifts that could be seen as an attempt to influence the actions of officers. After a preliminary review of the emails, the department said officers did not appear to have violated agency rules.
An agency spokesperson said that although accepting free devices and personally recommending those products to community members did not violate the LAPD code of ethics, a paid endorsement would run afoul of agency rules.
That isn’t to say the actions of everyone involved were above-board and above reproach. Staying within the guidelines frequently meant straying right up to the edge of them. It also meant finding ways to influence officers to continue pushing Ring’s products without crossing that line. It appears LAPD supervisors believe the only form of payment that’s unacceptable is cash. Anything else — no matter its effect on officers and their actions — adheres to the letter of the law while mostly ignoring its spirit.
Here are few examples of Ring/LAPD interactions the LAPD considers to be acceptable:
Officer Eric Mollinedo from the Olympic division emailed Ring’s director of operations, August Cziment, asking for promo codes as well as information about receiving a unit for his home. Mollinedo said he’d be manning a booth at an upcoming public safety fair. Cziment said Ring would get him “going with flyers, as well as a unit.” Ring also provided Mollinedo a coupon code and encouraged him to distribute it to his colleagues.
Sgt. Justin Scott exchanged a series of emails with Cziment about an offer for a free stick-up camera. Ring asked him to share the offer with his entire West L.A. station. […] Later that month, Scott ran promotional language by the company before sending it to fellow officers, emailing Cziment a block of text about the stick-up camera offer for his approval. Cziment replied, “Looks great! Keep me updated on how it all goes.”
In Scott’s case, the free camera offer resulted in responses from 60 officers. Some asked for discount codes for themselves and family members. Others asked if they were still eligible for a prior Ring giveaway. Another officer approached Ring directly, asking for the “donation” of a free camera to be raffled off at a station social function. Ring obliged.
Ring has since abandoned its guideline-skirting “brand ambassador” program with the LAPD. These partnerships are still in place elsewhere in the nation. Ring has always been happy to tout its tight relationships with law enforcement agencies even though its cameras — despite the company’s hefty market share — have done little to reduce crime rates. The company may have made some better decisions in recent weeks — like requiring law enforcement requests for footage to be made publicly through its online portal — but it’s certainly not interested in slowing the spread of its product.
Ring has relied on law enforcement to expand its market base for years. It’s not going to completely abandon that plan just because some of its more unseemly aspects have been exposed.
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