Ring Partnership with Chicago Police Department

TO: Chief Information Office, City of Chicago

FROM: Aisha Iqbal, Chief Advisor on Community Relations

SUBJECT: Potential Ring Partnership with Chicago Police Department

Summary:

In 2015, the city of Chicago was named “America’s mass shooting capital,” a designation that has carried throughout with more than 1600 injuries and 400 homicides from gun violence this year alone. The election of Chicago’s n\ew mayor Lori Lightfoot brought a new focus on how best the city can both reduce its crime rate while also promoting improved community relations with the local police force. However, to do so would require innovative policies and partnerships.

As you have become aware of, the Commissioner for Chicago’s Police Department hopes to sign an agreement with Ring, Amazon’s newly acquired home security system, in order to gain access to critical audio and video data. He has indicated that the data would only be used with user permission and for the sole purpose of “improving security and reducing crime in the inner-city area.” Over 600 police forces have already formed various partnerships with the company with many reporting a decrease in crimes such as trespassing and burglary. ** This memo seeks to assess the potential opportunities and risks resulting from this partnership through a careful analysis of key stakeholder and priorities. Provided the volatile history between the city’s residents and its police force along with recent scrutiny around Ring’s privacy policy, it becomes apparent that such an agreement would be detrimental for the mayor’s overall goal.

Stakeholders:

The key stakeholders affected by this partnership will included:

  • Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and her advising team. This includes the chief information officer who provides Lori with critical guidance on how best to proceed with technology related issues.
    • Concern: As the former head of the Chicago police accountability task force, Lightfoot promised reform and accountability as mayor. Her main concern with such a partnership will be around the extent she is caving to police pressure. Crime has not fallen drastically during her term and she is concerned that the current plan of action is not working.
  • Chicago’s police commissioner who serves as the key representative on behalf of the city’s police department.
    • Concern: Chicago’s police force is still reeling from the murder of Laquan Mcdonald by an officer and the ensuing US Department of Justice investigation which revealed systemic malpractice within the organization. While the partnership with Ring will provide critical real-time information around the location of a crime, resulting in more efficient responses, the department is concerned about future accusations around citizen privacy.
  • The Ring company, whose potential relationship with the city is to be further explored. The security system’s data from features including the outdoor motion-detecting cameras, smart doorbell, and peephole camera can potentially be included as part of the agreement.
    • Concern: With more than 600 current partnerships with police departments, the company knows that it is capable of delivering on its promise to CPD. However, it wants to make sure the Chicago market is profitable and there is longevity in the contract. Additionally, Ring would prefer a market with relaxed data privacy regulations as that would allow for greater usability from its product.
  • Amazon, which acquired Ring in 2018 in order to bolster its home security offering.
    • Concern: While the company has benefitted from the sales of the Ring security system, it has also been on the defensive around how such a “crime and safety” platform reinforces racism and heavily policing. The company understands that this partnership can open the door for even more products and services to be sold to CPD. Given its contracts with federal agencies such as US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, it is less interested in how controversial agreements look for its brand.
  • Local municipal legislators whose role is to push forth policies and regulations on behalf of Chicago’s residents.
    • Concern: Following US Senator Markey’s investigation around Ring’s relaxed privacy policies and civil rights protections, there has been a greater push within Chicago to push forth more comprehensive data protection legislation. This is coupled with an outcry to invest resources in crime prevention and better community relations with the police.  
  • Chicago Democratic party. The powerful party has influence over governance and community relations that dictate how well the city functions.
    • Concern: The party seeks to remain in power and realizes that to do so, it has to maintain its relations with the powerful police lobby present within the city. This comes at odds with many Democratic elected officials. This partnership, if framed correctly, can help bolster the image of the political machine.
  • Chicago residents: This decision will impact the relationship the city’s residents have with their own personal data and the police force.
    • Concern: In a recent survey conducted by the Chicago Tribune, safety was the highest listed concern for Chicagoans. While this mainly means for crime, data protection is becoming a bigger concern for many.
  • Illinois American Civil Liberties Union. This group has previously represented resident lawsuits against the city’s police force around issues of discriminatory targeting and unlawful violence.
    • Concern: The group’s main goal is to protect the civil liberties of Illinois’ constituency. The larger national chapter has already called upon Ring to abide by data protection rules to limited results. Additionally, it was this same report that confirmed that Ring doorbell videos could be kept indefinitely by the police department, resulting in internal policy changes.
  • Local community organizers. As a city built upon racial and socioeconomic inequities, organizers have been a guiding force for representing and bringing forth claims by Chicago’s residents.
    • Concern: Similar to the ACLU, local organizers work to make sure residents are represented when assessing policies and agreements. There is however a greater focus on crime reduction since many organizers are directly impacted.
  •   Local media is an important stakeholder as they still hold significant influence within the city and can directly guide the public sentiments.
    • Concern: The media’s main concern is around the level of information is available to the general public. Additionally, the investigative arms are likely to look into the partnership itself if it was to go through given the history of corruption within CPD.
  • Local crime enterprises. While there are instances of individuals committing petty crime, which is what Ring is supposedly designed to stop, much of the violence that the police force responds to is directed by the city’s numerous criminal groups.
    • Concern: Since the Ring service is focused on stopping crime while also providing greater information to the police for action, high enforcement of an agreement could be detrimental for the crime operation in the city.  
Stakeholder mapping

Priorities:

As the individual in charge of Chicago residents’ data, an analysis of priorities around the potential CPD-Ring agreement is critical.

  1. Citizen privacy: the city of Chicago can learn directly from the work that Massachusetts Senator Edward Markey has conducting through his 2019 investigation of Ring and the company’s existing partnerships. In his report, he states “connected doorbells are well on their way to becoming a mainstay of American households, and the lack of privacy and civil rights protections for innocent residents is nothing short of chilling.” Specifically within his investigation he found that Ring:
    1. Had no security requirements for the law enforcement offices that get access to users’ footage
    1. Had no restrictions on law enforcement sharing users’ footage with third parties
    1. Had no policies that prohibit law enforcement from keeping shared video footage forever
    1. Had no evidentiary standard for law enforcement to request footage from users
    1. Refused to commit to not selling users’ biometric data
    1. Had no oversight/compliance mechanisms in place to ensure that users don’t’ collect footage from beyond their property
    1. Had no oversight/compliance mechanisms in place to ensure that users don’t collect footage of children
    1. Had no compliance mechanisms in place to prohibit law enforcement from requesting and obtaining footage that does not comply with Ring’s Terms of Services.
  2. Informed consent: It is important to note the initial agreement between CPD and Ring states that data sharing will be done only with the user’s approval. If this agreement was to go through, it would be imperative for the city to agree upon terms that consider the privacy and civil liberties of its constituents. In other cities with Ring partnerships, the extent to which user consent actually works is being questioned. University of District of Columbia law professor and author of the Rise of Big Data Policing Andrew Guthrie Ferguson has pointed out that knowing the location of every Ring camera raises the issue of a pseudo-surveillance state apparatus. He states that “when police can see which houses were likely to have footage, it undercuts the anonymity, or control or consent.” Additionally, given the imbalanced power dynamics between a police officer and a regular resident, even though “it’s still in the individual’s power to consent, it’s very difficult to deal with that level of consent because it’s hard to say no to lawful authority.”
  3. Security: It is important to note that Ring maintains that customer security is paramount to its business practice:

“Customers, not law enforcement, are in control of their videos. Videos are shared through the Neighbors program only if: 1) a customer chooses to post it publicly on the Neighbors app; 2) explicit consent is provided by the customer. Law enforcement agencies who participate in the Neighbors app must go through the Ring team when making a video request to customers. Customers can choose to opt out or decline any request, and law enforcement agencies have no visibility into which customers have received a request and which have opted out or declined.”

  • Law enforcement: With over 600 established partnerships, Ring has developed a model of engagement that it seeks to operate within in Chicago. The map below indicates all of the neighborhood partnerships within the greater-Chicago area. Through this map it becomes apparent that Chicago’s suburban neighborhoods have all signed up as a means of decreasing crime while the area that is home to the most violence has not. The reaction within Chicago can be attributed to the relationship that the city and its residents have with the police force.
Ring partnerships with local police departments in greater Chicago

As the Chicago Police Department confronts a decade-long reform process following the US Department of Justice findings, it is looking to different approaches for response. One popular approach is the community policing model which requires greater engagement and strategies provided to local residents so that they are able to combat a potential threat before it escalates. Ring would contest that its services are essential for residents to feel empowered enough to respond.

  • Racial equity: One of the most important considerations for this decision involves the racial paradigms around crime and violence within the city. The history of redlining in Chicago has resulted in neighborhoods with little racial or socioeconomic diversity. Additionally, data from CPD reveals that 72% of victims from police use of force were African American, even though that demographic only constitute 32% of the population. In other cities where Ring has high proliferation, videos posted on the linked Neighbors app disproportionately depict people of color, and descriptions often use racist language or make racist assumptions about the people shown. There is the potential for this agreement to fuel even greater racial sentiment in a city already divided upon racial lines.

Opportunities:

  • Decrease in certain types of crime: Ring has been very transparent about the type of crime that its services help decrease- package theft and petty crimes. While the city of Chicago is more concerned over its high homicide rate, decreasing high frequency, low impact crimes can help make neighborhoods feel safer.
  • A more dependable community-driven response model: Allowing for citizens to report and monitor their own property and engage with the police ostensibly on their own terms can be the type of community policing Chicago has been trying to enact since the 1990s. If this model has been successful in other major cities, there is the potential for it to be successful here.
  • Increased transparency over police-response: Since many of the police responses will be driven by reported data, it might become easier for the police department to monitor what type of response was provided and where the correct level of action was taken. This can potentially result in a decline in malpractice within the department.
  • Alignment with mayor’s call for action: Mayor Lightfoot has continuously made police reform a major initiative under her term. By incorporating emerging technology that is driven by data and local users, she can potentially incorporate different stakeholders within a solution.

Risks:

  • Greater outcry over citizen privacy: Within 2019, Ring was subject to a congressional investigation and several individual lawsuits around data protection and privacy. While the company is updating its terms of services, there are still many questions around how much and till when the company provides data to police departments. Such a partnership can result in significant negative media and community actions that can be detrimental for the city in the long run.
  • Increased scrutiny over CPD partnership: For many this partnership will allow CPD to skirt any major reforms and instead partner with a company that has been heavily criticized for its abuses of civil liberties. For Chicagoans directly impacted by historical injustices on the part of the police force, this agreement can result in heavy disengagement with government as well.
  • Political fallout: As the first African American female mayor and the only major candidate explicitly calling out wrongs committed by CPD, allowing for a partnership will make many previous claims by Lightfoot disingenuous. This can lead to political overturn since so many in her advisory board have come out against this agreement.
  • Negative community response: Lastly, partnering with Ring to get personal home surveillance data can result in Chicago’s most vulnerable feeling disillusioned. This can lead to greater violence, essentially counteracting any benefits from the technology.  

Recommendation:

As someone who started her career as a community organizer in Hyde Park, protesting the inequities found within communities, an agreement between Ring and Chicago’s Police Department would work against the safety and well-being of the city’s residents. This technology will only further the racial divide and empower members of the police force instead of the community. Instead what is needed is a greater understanding of policing as a concept, restorative justice protocols, and higher funding for public schools and recreation across the city.

Sources:

https://theintercept.com/2019/02/14/amazon-ring-police-surveillance/

https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/qvyvzd/amazons-home-security-company-is-turning-everyone-into-cops

https://thewirecutter.com/blog/ring-neighbors-app-review/

https://www.markey.senate.gov/news/press-releases/senator-markey-investigation-into-amazon-ring-doorbell-reveals-egregiously-lax-privacy-policies-and-civil-rights-protections

https://www.markey.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Response%20Letter_Ring_Senator%20Markey%209.26.19.pdf

https://www.cnet.com/news/cnet-names-2019s-top-tech-products-of-the-year/

https://www.npr.org/2019/12/04/784670050/chicago-mayor-lori-lightfoot-fires-citys-police-superintendent

https://www.engadget.com/2019/08/28/amazon-ring-law-enforcement-map/

https://www.govtech.com/public-safety/Ring-Doorbells-Yield-Crime-Fighting-Results-in-Arizona.html

https://gizmodo.com/ring-s-hidden-data-let-us-map-amazons-sprawling-home-su-1840312279

https://www.engadget.com/2019/08/28/amazon-ring-law-enforcement-map/

https://theintercept.com/2018/08/16/chicago-police-misconduct-racial-disparity/

https://www.engadget.com/2019/11/20/amazon-confirms-police-keep-ring-doorbell-videos-forever/

https://interactive.wbez.org/curiouscity/community-policing/

https://shop.ring.com/pages/doorbell-cameras

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