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The National City Police Department is on its way to becoming the sixth law enforcement agency in San Diego County to team up with Ring, a private doorbell-camera company owned by Amazon.
Soon, businesses and residents will be able to voluntarily upload footage online so that investigators can better solve package thefts. Police will get another tool to reduce crime while the company drives users to an app known as Neighbors.
But emails obtained by Voice of San Diego suggest the company has been expanding its connections in National City and other parts of San Diego County by offering free and discounted devices to law enforcement personnel when pitching a partnership. Some agencies have then gone on to tout — and effectively market — Ring products to the public.
That could be a problem, because many police departments in the region have policies prohibiting their employees from endorsing any product, service or commercial entity above another.
In June, a crime scene specialist for the National City Police Department asked a Ring representative for more information about a law enforcement discount code worth $50, because “a bunch of guys expressed interest in buying some Ring products.”
Ring offered a similar discount to Chula Vista in March 2018, but the police department turned down the offer. It had already received free surveillance doorbells from another company the year before.
Still, that hasn’t stopped Chula Vista from highlighting Ring products at its National Night Out, an annual community-building event hosted by police departments across the country. Ahead of this year’s effort, CVPD posted a photo of a Ring product display on its official Twitter account and encouraged attendees to purchase a raffle ticket for a home security system.
In April, CVPD signed an official agreement with the company that allows them access to doorbell footage. The program officially launched two weeks ago, at approximately the same time the police department was raffling off Ring products.
Chula Vista Capt. Phil Collum said the raffle was not an endorsement, and the department has given away or auctioned off a variety of public safety items in the past such as gun locks and dementia patient-locating devices.
“I don’t see any of those as advertisements,” he said. “I think of them as opportunities to provide resources to the community.”
When asked whether the Police Department consulted Ring on how to answer questions posed by the press, Collum acknowledged the company had provided talking points and other materials to guide conversations with the media. But he said he does not need to read them for “common sense” information.
“I don’t want to give the impression that I’m sitting with talking points in front of me or reading them, nor am I basing my stuff off these talking points,” Collum said. “I’m basing it off of what I know.”
Collum also said Neighbors, the app associated with Ring products is not specifically geared toward package-theft prevention, contrary to “public discourse.” Instead, he described Neighbors as a “social media platform and another way to engage with the community.”
National City has been touting Ring products at its National Night Out event since 2017. This practice is so popular, in fact, that the company has sent displays and promotional videos to various police departments in advance of those events.
One Ring representative told two separate National City police officers in emails that the company was willing to send “all the materials you’ll need to educate your community about Ring products and the value they bring to your community.”
In a statement to VOSD, the company noted that it does not require police departments to promote their products. “As we continue on our mission to make neighborhoods safer, we support law enforcement’s efforts to educate their communities about their activity on the Neighbors app,” a Ring spokesperson wrote.
Until recently, though, Ring was encouraging police departments to push its products.
In a February email, Raymond Pollum, Ring’s head of law enforcement partnerships, told the San Diego Sheriff’s Department that the company had removed a “continuing donation” clause from its original agreement, which had also been used in Oceanside and La Mesa. Those agreements had language stipulating that if police departments helped drive a steady flow of community members to the Neighbors app, Ring would donate free cameras to that department.
That language was missing from the agreements signed by Chula Vista, National City and the Sheriff’s Department in 2019, but Pollum said they could revisit the program later, possibly using a third party to arrive at the same goal.
“This is an ongoing internal discussion with Ring/Amazon legal and compliance teams,” he said. “Until it gets resolved (possibly by working with a local non-profit), we are leaving it out of the MOU.”
Ring representatives did not comment on how the company planned to work with a nonprofit organization but said it had begun “to phase out the device donation component of the program for our new law enforcement agency partners.”