By David Sutta

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – This summer Fort Lauderdale police tested a pilot program to help catch criminals.

It was so successful that cases that typically would go unsolved where solved in hours.

Detectives believe the new system will change the way they work.

CBS4’S David Sutta took a closer look this month at what could be the next version of the neighborhood crime watch app.

John Watt loves showing off his new doorbell. “This is awesome. When I was growing up this is all the stuff that was on science fiction movies.” Watt says with a smile.

Watt’s doorbell is some of the new technology that has rolled out in recent years that have built-in cameras. His is manufactured by a company called Ring. At first, it was “gee whiz” tech for him. Now he believes it may just be part of a technology breakthrough that changes home security forever.

Ring is a global home security company owned by Amazon.

“The police can’t patrol our neighborhood 24/7. They are never going to privy to everything that goes on. Hopefully, this gives them the eyes and the tools to better fight some of the things that go on in our neighborhoods all over the city,” Watt said.

The camera records anyone who presses the doorbell. But it also has a motion sensor that automatically records movement in front of your home. Based on your settings you get an alert instantly on your phone. The video is surprisingly good quality.

This Summer Ring partnered with the Fort Lauderdale Police Department for a pilot program. The idea was to donate a few Ring cameras to some communities but more importantly, start using something called the Neighbors app. The App made by Ring is accessible to anyone with a smartphone. You do not have to own a Ring camera to use it.

Fort Lauderdale Detective Cameron Burdick is a big fan of the Neighbors app. “It definitely brings people together. It kind of incorporates us as well because we can see it, we can comment on it, they can ask us questions,” Burdick said.

Essentially if your home camera records something suspicious or a crime you can share it instantly on the app. Your neighbors can be notified instantly as well.

Fort Lauderdale resident Stephanie Tonsfeldt believes that has a lot of value. “Being notified right away, I mean someone two blocks down if something suspicious is going on it’s nice that everyone knows about and can be on alert.”

The system is not just alerting neighbors though to crime trends.

Detective Burdick opens his laptop. There is a map of the city with icons all over it. Each icon a report that he can click on and see evidence for a potential case.

“The minute that someone uploads a photo or a video from whatever device they have we get it instantaneously. So it helps us identify suspects and crimes and trends things like that. We don’t have to wait 3-4-5-6 days to get the report to try and get video. It’s right here at our fingertips, minutes after the crime,” he said.

Package thefts, car break-ins, suspicious activity, it all is on Detective Cameron Burdick’s phone or computer.

Within two hours of one particular car break-in this summer, the video was on the phones of dozens of officers across the area. By lunchtime, they had their suspect in handcuffs. Burdick told us without the video the case might not have been solved, and definitely not the same day.

The network of information sharing and neighbors being on alert is reminiscent of the neighborhood crime watch.

A movement that has faded away.

Betty Shelley, president of the Imperial Point Association, says getting people to volunteer for crime watch is very difficult.

“We couldn’t get anyone to go around anymore and do that. Volunteering is really hard these days,” Shelley said. She is a big fan of the new tech push because it’s getting neighbors to talk to each other. “In the beginning, you think gizmo. But as it goes along I think it’s a way for people to feel more secure and comfortable.”

So far, detective Burdick has solved two cases testing the system this summer.

“It’s almost like shooting fish in a barrel if you think about it. Because all the information is right there. So it’s nice to be able to get it on the fly and run with it,” Burdick said.

Fort Lauderdale Police Chief Rick Maglione believes this next generation crime watch app is the future. Fort Lauderdale Police Chief Rick Maglione is a fan as well. He sees this changing how they solve cases. It’s efficient and effective. “This is a tough system to circumvent when you have thousands in every neighborhood,” Maglione said.

The Neighbors app works with many cameras, not just Ring, but Ring is growing in popularity as many law enforcement organizations are teaming up with them.

Miami Police partnered with Ring this summer as well.


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