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MPD gives Ring doorbell cameras to homeowners willing to share surveillance in high-crime areas

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Milwaukee Police will now have access to hundreds of Ring doorbells in certain parts of the city because of a community surveillance program.

The program gave free or discounted Amazon Ring doorbell cameras to homeowners willing to share surveillance footage with police to help with an investigation.

Community leaders say between this year and last year, more than 170 free Ring doorbells were installed within Milwaukee Police District 6. Milwaukee Police District 6 covers nearly 23 square miles of Milwaukee’s far south side.

The free cameras were eligible for businesses and homeowners who live in areas with a high volume of police calls.

Dawn Thompson applied for a free ring doorbell and got one installed in her alley.

"It just gives you a little bit of safety,” said Thompson. “I feel safe because I know my neighbors can see my house, I can see their house and the alley is covered."

The program was a partnership between Milwaukee Police, four of the city's business districts and homeowners. Those who didn't get a free Ring doorbell but live in police district 6 were still able to get one with a $40 discount.

"This allows neighbors to be able to use an online app to share with each other and have our police department have access through some technology that they wouldn't have access to otherwise," said Tara Cavazos, Executive Director of South 27th Street Business Association.

"We've seen some tire slashing and things like that be resolved, as well as some more serious incidents resolved through camera usage," said Leif Otteson, Executive Director of Gateway to Milwaukee and Crisol Corridor Business District.

Thompson says she was worried about her privacy at first, but the program requires police to ask homeowners before grabbing video. Thompson still had to sign an agreement and pay Ring a yearly cloud storage fee.

"They have no access to it -- they can't just go into my cloud and spy on me and see what I say," Thompson said. "They'll come to the door and they'll say we had an incident on this day -- can we see what your camera picked up?"

Even with certain privacy guidelines in place, civil rights advocates want people participating in the program to keep their privacy a top priority.

"At the end of the day, we're giving greater and greater opportunities for local law enforcement and federal law enforcement to have an ever increasing surveillance net, and it's stifling," said Emilio De Torre of American Civil Liberties Union Wisconsin.

Program leaders will continue to collect data and say more Ring doorbells could be installed if additional grants allow.

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