(Victor Bizar Gómez/The Markup)

‘Neighborhood Watch’ investigation with The Markup highlights LAPD surveillance tech

This series was made possible through support from the Pulitzer Center’s AI Accountability Network.

“Porch pirates.” “Junkie.” “Suspicious.”

Neighborhood informants aren’t new. But the relationship between police and residents is now being automated, often in a way that people didn’t know they consented to. Experts worry this could further prioritize affluent white residents’ needs above others.

The Markup took an unprecedented look into Neighbors—the social platform linked to Amazon’s Ring doorbell cameras—and how the company is sending users’ posts to police.

“[There’s] a lot of people who are trying to turn every complaint and grievance they have into yet another policing matter.”

—Albert Fox Cahn, Surveillance Technology Oversight Project founder and executive director

Five years ago, Ring pulled out all the stops marketing to law enforcement—from free tech to open bar parties. It worked. More than 2,600 police departments across the country now partner with Ring.

As part of those partnerships, cops get special access to Neighbors posts about crime. We analyzed a random sample of posts sent to LAPD officers—30% didn’t deal with criminal activity. Instead, posts often outline behavior that residents deem merely “suspicious.”

And, that info can be biased. Neighbors has been known as a place where users can amplify paranoia and racism. Research confirms that people living in whiter, more affluent communities post much more, and often include vague assertions about “suspicious” activity.

Moreover, Neighbors users The Markup spoke to didn’t know their posts were subject to police monitoring. As part of the investigation, we've also got news you can use. If you have a security camera or want one, learn how to shop with privacy in mind—and consider the right solution for the issues you may face with our guide.

Read about the data, including 200,000 posts from LAPD, and how this series was reported.

—Maria Puertas/The Markup


In my L.A. neighborhood, doorbell cameras are more reliable than cops

‘You never know what you’re going to get when you call the police to our neighborhood.’

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Digital illustration of three people peeking behind blinds, with suspicion and fear in their eyes.

How we investigated Ring's crime alert system for police departments

In Los Angeles, residents in whiter and wealthier areas post more often on Neighbors, but do not report a higher crime rate.

Digital illustration of three police officers huddled around a device showing a map from Ring’s Neighbors app. There are several pins on the map labeled crime, safety, or stranger.

Amazon’s ‘Neighborhood Watch’ might be turning police officers into ‘Reddit moderators’

Over 18 months, one LAPD officer received more than 10,000 emails from the social platform affiliated with Amazon’s Ring.

Digital illustration of three people peering behind blinds looking suspiciously around each other. Every person's pupil has a light blue right glow reflected in it.

Accidental spies: Amazon Ring owners may be unknowingly emailing police

An investigation by The Markup found that Ring’s social platform funnels suspicions from residents in whiter and wealthier areas of Los Angeles directly to police.

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