Amazon-owned Ring used Los Angeles police officers as brand ambassadors for its security cameras, providing free products and discount codes in exchange for recommendations, the Los Angeles Times reported. Ring gave at least 100 LAPD officers free devices, which helped the department create a network of surveillance cameras, making it easier to obtain video footage, according to the LA Times.
Ring ended Pillar, its police officer ambassador program in 2019, and a spokesperson said in an email to The Verge on Friday that “the practices and programs in question do not reflect Ring today. We stopped donating to law enforcement and encouraging police to promote our products years ago.”
The LAPD did not immediately reply to a request for comment, but a departmental review found that participating officers didn’t appear to have violated LAPD rules, according to the LA Times.
Amazon acquired Ring in 2018 and has tried to establish that its home security cameras can help reduce neighborhood crime. But according to a February 2020 NBC News investigation, many law enforcement agencies can’t actually attribute any crimes to being solved due to the assistance of a Ring camera. And of the arrests that were helped by Ring footage, many were for low-level nonviolent property crimes.
But police departments can ask Ring customers to provide them with access to camera footage; a January report from the Financial Times found that Ring partnered with more than 2,000 police and fire departments last year, reportedly requesting footage for around 22,000 total incidents. Most of the requests ask users to voluntarily submit video, but police can obtain footage directly through parent company Amazon with a search warrant or court order.
And last summer during anti-racism and police brutality protests, the LAPD asked Ring customers to provide footage from their camera doorbells, according to emails obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “During the recent protests, individuals were injured and property was looted, damaged, and destroyed,” the LAPD wrote in one request, and it was seeking the footage “to identify those responsible.”
Earlier this month, Ring made changes to the way police and other public agencies can request video clips from camera owners in its Neighbors app. Agencies can no longer send individuals private requests for clips and can only request clips be sent to them via public posts viewable in the main feed of the Neighbors app. The Neighbors app is separate from the main Ring app and is more akin to local social networks like Nextdoor.