Domestic violence affects approximately one in three adults in the United States at some point in their lives. It represents more than 40% of all women’s murders: 856 women died in 2017, according to the latest official figures.
Law enforcement has an inefficient history of responding to the problem. According to a Justice Department report, domestic violence, as a category, generates the largest number of calls to police, but advocates for victims of domestic violence have long criticized police for not taking allegations of abuse seriously enough, or they respond with a narrow approach, focused on protection orders, arrests and trials, which do not always help the victims.
However, when one of the world’s largest technology companies, Ring, offers free cameras to help solve the problem, this can be an attractive proposition. Police believe that this could be an ever-available sentry guarding the homes of victims of repeated crimes.
When Ring’s pilot programs began in 2019, these were small in size. Bexar County set aside 50 cameras to protect victims of domestic violence and anyone with a protection order. San Antonio assigned 171 devices to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault who had filed police reports. And in Cape Coral, where this program for fighting domestic violence was supposed to last a year, 100 devices were assigned to victims of domestic violence.
Former Cape Coral police chief David Newlan had the idea to implement the program in that city after a 2017 case in which a case of domestic violence turned into a murder-suicide. The perpetrator had been banned from approaching the victim by a restraining order and was required to wear an ankle bracelet controlled by a third party. On the day of the murder, the monitoring company did not notify the police when he violated the protection order when approaching the victim’s home.
Police departments want to know everything they legally can. But is growing surveillance technology in the public interest?
At least today, more than 1,800 U.S. law enforcement agencies use the Neighbours app, along with more than 360 fire departments. Ring associations, with many police forces using it, give the participating departments a much broader surveillance system than the police themselves could build legally.
The popularity of these programs is unclear. The San Antonio program distributed 158 of its 171 cameras. However, in the first year of the Bexar County program, no more than 15 victims opted for one of the 50 cameras, according to Rosalinda Hibron-Pineda, a victim services specialist at the sheriff’s office. And in Cape Coral, where there were 100 cameras available, only 24 had been given out.
Unless they give law enforcement the tools to arrest and imprison the assailants, the cameras would not be effective.