Ed Dorini’s home, nestled in the upscale Sun Valley sector of Los Angeles, speaks of a journey. From an immigrant from Canada in the 1980s to a successful real estate entrepreneur, his story is about determination and hard work. A visit to his house gives an insight into the protection measures adopted by the residents. As Dorini points out, people in the area are well-prepared with security cameras, guns, and dogs.

Three years ago, Dorini, not one to take security lightly, installed 10 Ring cameras, an Amazon product, around his property. Ring’s companion app, Neighbors, acts as a communal vigilance platform where residents share clips of activities nearby. This collaborative approach seemed like an effective way to ensure safety. But what does this surge in neighborhood surveillance imply?

While many users, like Dorini, view these platforms as augmenting their security infrastructure, some implications must be considered. The over-reliance on cameras might lead to increased mistrust and perpetuate pre-existing biases. This becomes especially concerning given the track record of police biases against Black, Latino, and Indigenous communities in the U.S. Data from Neighbors has revealed that it is predominantly used in more affluent, whiter neighborhoods, leading to racial profiling and targeting concerns.

Ángel Díaz, from USC Gould Law School, views the phenomenon as a manifestation of the old practice where communities decide who belongs and who doesn’t. The alliance between law enforcement and these surveillance tools could amplify existing prejudices, making specific demographics more vulnerable. 

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An analysis by The Markup revealed that over 30% of the posts forwarded to the LAPD didn’t pertain to criminal activities. Instead, they often described actions that residents found suspicious. These assumptions can sometimes be rooted in racial or socio-economic biases. Andrew Guthrie Ferguson from American University stresses the inherent risk in such subjective reporting, especially in more privileged neighborhoods.

What’s more startling is the widespread association between Ring and various police and fire departments. Over 2,600 police departments have partnerships with Amazon’s Ring network. While Ring insists on data sharing only under specific conditions, the blurred lines between private surveillance and law enforcement raise privacy concerns.

When informed about sharing his posts with the LAPD, Dorini responded positively, seeing it as a boon for community safety. However, there’s a lack of universal awareness about this data sharing, with several consumers expressing surprise when informed.

In Dorini’s predominantly white neighborhood, security systems are ubiquitous. However, despite increased crime rates between 2018 and 2022 in Los Angeles, crime levels in such upscale areas have either remained constant or decreased. Data also suggests that Ring camera usage correlates with income, with wealthier neighborhoods posting more frequently.

While wildlife sightings are common on Ring footage in areas like Sun Valley, the narrative shifts elsewhere. In a 2018 post, a person warned of a “Hispanic man with a sleeping bag,” exemplifying the potential for racial profiling.

Ring claims to have strict community guidelines against racial profiling, and in 2021, they updated their policies to counteract biases. However, experts like Díaz are concerned about platforms like Neighbors perpetuating paranoia and prejudice.

In contrast to Dorini’s neighborhood, Ernie Arzu’s former residence in South Los Angeles paints a different picture. While his Ring camera was mainly used to monitor his daughter, Arzu’s interactions with the LAPD have been minimal. The underlying sentiment suggests a complex relationship between the community and the police.

As technology redefines neighborhood dynamics in cities like L.A., it’s crucial to balance safety and the potential pitfalls of surveillance overreach.