Redwood Falls Police Department receives training on home surveillance devices

Christopher Schmitz

Many folks around the United States have opted in to home security options such as Ring, Nest Hello, and Skybell, among others. Not only has the technology become widely used in a variety of ways, but the price point has come down such that many homes across all income levels have begun using home surveillance. And with new technology comes new ways it can be harnessed.

In Mid-March, the Redwood Falls Police Department was made aware of a training seminar while at an investigators’ meeting in Marshall. The meeting was conducted for law enforcement by the doorbell camera-making company, Ring, and revolved around a new, free app called Neighbors. RWFPD sent officers Randy Braun and Steve Schroeder to learn more.

Neighbors allows users who have any kind of video surveillance device to sign up and claim their address on an interactive map of a community. Braun explained, “Let’s say there has been a lot of thefts in one particular area. With Neighbors, we can see who has cameras in that general area and ask those members of the public to review their camera footage for details.” He reiterated, “This app does not give police access to home owners’ cameras.”

Braun said, “In the app, we can set a geo-fence, or an area of half a mile or greater and send out a request, within the app, which will only notify relevant users. It allows RWFPD to communicate with users who might have useful video footage, rather than sending blanket requests to the community through Facebook and other similar, public forums.” Braun noted that police will not stop using those other forums, but that this is “another tool we can use and in a high-touch way.”

The Neighbors app can be used to pass on information to users about everything from thefts and assaults to road conditions, and to request videos relevant to ongoing investigations. The app does not pass on any personal information from its users. 

Schroeder explained that cameras don’t typically record crimes in progress. “Footage from cameras often helps narrow down details in an investigation and helps us focus leads in the right direction,” he said. Schroeder said that a camera might catch the model and color of a car or help identify a suspect who can later be questioned. Those sorts of details have helped RWFPD solve many cases before, and Braun pointed out that historically, footage has come from cameras at businesses and now that so many community members have cameras, that opens up new potential sources of footage investigators can ask for help from.

“We don’t expect to use the app for small crimes, like stolen bicycles,” Braun said. “The last thing we want is for people to get bogged down with requests from us.” Schroeder added, “The majority of footage that helps solve cases comes from the public volunteering it after noticing they captured relevant details.”

Schroeder sayid, “A lot of community members have cameras and this new app allows those people to help.” 

And, it has helped in the past. The officers mentioned specifically the rise in catalytic converter thefts and other, similar crimes that take place in late-night hours. They said in a town like Redwood, there isn’t a lot of traffic, and home footage can be extremely helpful to narrow down who these criminals are and put a stop to them.