The popular devices can record and send live video footage to the homeowner when someone approaches their property or rings the bell. Just last week, footage from a smart doorbell in Norton Fitzwarren, Somerset, proved crucial to the murder conviction of Collin Reeves. Reeves was sentenced to a minimum of 38 years in prison last Tuesday for killing his neighbours Jennifer and Stephen Chapple. This is just the latest example of how this kind of evidence is becoming crucial to police and investigators when solving crimes.
Dave Tucker, faculty lead at the National College of Policing, told The Telegraph: “The reach of digital evidence is massive.”
He added that smart doorbells are a “potential source of evidence quite similar to CCTV”.
The household device is becoming so critical that a digital intelligence training module called Operation Modify has been introduced to teach police how to use the footage for a conviction.
Mr Tucker said a few years ago “we wouldn’t have thought about digital doorbells”, but in the 18 months since this form of digital intelligence was added to the curriculum, the force has become “very proud of it”.
Last week, it emerged that police failed to solve a single burglary in nearly half of Britain’s neighbourhoods over the past three years.
But, with the introduction of smart doorbells, this could be a turning point as many believe the devices act as a deterrent to burglars.
Ring, the market leader, was sold to Amazon in 2018 for more than £800m.
Their doorbells range in price, with some costing £89.99, compared with upwards of £129.99 for a Google Nest.
Ring’s subscription plans are setting users back an extra £2.50 or £8 per month depending on what plan they go for.
Both options allow users to save video data for 30 days, with the homeowner being able to view the footage via a smartphone app.
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Doorbell footage also helped to convict PC Wayne Couzens for the murder of Sarah Everard in 2021 as police pieced together her last moments using bus dashcam footage and street CCTV after connecting the sighting.
Despite acting as evidence in many crimes, there has been debate around privacy issues.
Operating your own home surveillance may be done with good intentions, but homeowners have been advised about placement.
Positioning your smart doorbell so that it includes a neighbouring property in the detection zone could easily identify a person’s car registration, appearance or individual attributes which they do not consent to being recorded and stored as footage.
In October last year, a judge ruled that a man’s smart doorbell camera invaded his neighbour’s privacy.
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Appearing on BBC’s Morning Live in January, Matt Allwright, who is known for presenting shows such as Watchdog, investigated smart doorbells and how they must be placed.
Speaking to security expert Ken Munroe, the expert explained how Britons can prevent invading other people’s privacy.
He said: “First of all, where are you pointing it and what’s in the background? Are you inadvertently filming your next door neighbour’s bathroom without realising? Most CCTV cameras now allow you to block out areas.”
Mr Allwright added: “Look in your camera’s settings for privacy filter or privacy mask and select the areas you don’t want to record.”
Homeowners can control where the picture is pointed but the audio may still be able to pick up conversations from afar.