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Cleveland police seeking access to home security camera footage to aid investigations

 Amazon-owned Ring lets police departments request footage from camera owners during crime investigations. [Brandon Klein Photo /  Shutterstock]
Amazon-owned Ring lets police departments request footage from camera owners during crime investigations.

Cleveland city council’s safety committee approved a proposal Wednesday to allow Cleveland police to seek access to home security cameras.

If approved, police could request footage from the cameras installed in private residences – such as Ring doorbell cameras - by any security company in Cleveland.

Deputy Chief Harold Pretel told council the rules for accessing the footage are based on agreements between security companies and their customers.

“They may ask you your desired protocol on releasing your footage,” Pretel said. “If the police reach out in an area, do you want to be contacted every time? And you go, ‘Well, yeah, they are looking for information on this robbery last night, sure give it to them.’ Or do you want to just give like a blanket yes, ‘If I have it on my system, you’re free to give it to the police.’”

The city has no rules about how long Cleveland police can store the footage, what they can use it for after they have it or the length of the footage they can request from the security company.

After Amazon-owned Ring came under fire for its Neighbors by Ring program, the company changed its rules so police departments could only request video from camera owners through a public post on the Neighbors app. Ring also tightened rules about disclosure – the post had to include an investigating officer’s contact information and a case number – and put limits on how much time the request could cover.

Cleveland passed an ordinance last year to join the Neighbors by Ring program but, according to the company’s website, never joined.

The proposal faced little pushback from members of council on Wednesday.

Ward 17 Councilman Charles Slife said it would be easier than trying to fill the department’s staffing shortages.

“This is a way for us to bolster our public safety presence in a way that is really more cost effective and an easier lift than those 200 vacant positions we talked about.”

In the recently passed 2022 budget, Cleveland Division of Police was given money for 1,640 uniformed officers. That would require hiring more than 200 new officers.

In addition to the yearly challenge of recruiting enough new hires to send to the academy, the department is facing increased scrutiny from the U.S. Department of Justice and police monitor for hiring practices that have not met the requirements of the consent decree.

The city has increasingly turned to expanded surveillance to try to bridge the gap.

Cleveland plans to use $4.5 million in coronavirus relief funding to expand a city-owned system of cameras attached to streetlights. Council recently approved new automated license plate readers and the purchase of two drones. And the city is nearing the end of a two-year pilot program testing out an audio surveillance system called ShotSpotter that detects gun shots.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Deputy Chief Pretel said the department and county prosecutor’s office are working on a mapping project that would compile all public and private surveillance cameras and make their locations available to law enforcement.

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