Our high-tech society has a lot of clear advantages, but some tools that seem great at first begin to lose their luster upon closer inspection.
One notable example is the Neighbors app, which has the capacity for sharing crime tips with cops but often doesn’t work as intended.
A noble concept
Neighbors and Ring, the company that makes those ubiquitous doorbell cameras, teamed up to help citizens report suspected criminal behavior. The ability to send photographic evidence and other important details directly to police can help track down so-called “porch pirates” or, in some cases, even solve more serious crimes.
But in practice, the result is that officers who opt-in to receive alerts end up spending an inordinate amount of time sifting through an assortment of insignificant tips in order to find an apparent crime worthy of police intervention.
Los Angeles Police Detective Jeffry Poole is one of about 260 officers in that agency who have signed up to receive tips through Neighbors. And during the first year and a half, he received nearly 11,000 emails from the app.
Digging for clues
If you’ve ever been frustrated by the number of emails cluttering your inbox, imagine how Poole and other law enforcement officers feel when they spend time scanning messages for evidence of a crime.
According to the LAPD and an independent review by the The Markup, here’s the underwhelming impact of these tips:
- Roughly one-third of the emails advise of a package theft.
- Another one-third report suspicious — but not illegal — actions.
- Many agencies haven’t made a single arrest due to the tips.
The result seems to be less time for officers to investigate assaults and other serious crimes and, as the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project’s Albert Fox Cahn asserted, treats “officers like Reddit moderators.”