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Dickinson Police implements Neighbors app to create safer, informed communities

Lt. Mike Hanel sits down with The Press, providing a tutorial on the Dickinson Police Department's new community policing program called Neighbors, which is an app incorporated with the Ring app.

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Dickinson Police Lt. Mike Hanel looks over a map of Dickinson on his computer, detailing how the Neighbors app works in his office Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021, at the City of Dickinson Public Safety Center. The Dickinson Police Department launched the app, which is a platform with Ring LLC, that notifies residents on crime activity happening throughout the city as well as connect the community to Dickinson Police officers by sharing potential evidence to help solve crimes. (Jackie Jahfetson / The Dickinson Press)

As porch pirating spikes around the holidays, the Dickinson Police Department is working toward collaborating with the community in an effort to fight crime while informing residents of what’s happening on their street with the official launch of the Neighbors app.

Neighbors is a collaboration app that connects not only community members with each other, but also with the DPD, Lt. Mike Hanel said. This app is another feature to the Ring app and owned by Ring LLC, which is an Amazon home security and smart home company. The program can be used by residents to keep each other up to date of crime happening in the neighborhood by allowing the sharing of their Ring doorbell footage. Everything from package thefts to suspicious persons can now be shared through this novel system.

Fargo Police Department was the first to launch the program in the state, and now DPD will follow suit by adopting the platform into its own crime fighting and community policing programs — the first on the Western Edge.

“We pride ourselves with being a very innovative department. We feel that if there's a piece of technology out there that we're not using to its fullest benefit, we're really doing the citizen's a disservice,” Hanel said. “So it's up to us to maintain, be on the top of our game and try to be as innovative as possible.”

If people already own a Ring product in their home that’s registered to a Dickinson address, their current Ring app is already integrated with the Neighbors feature, Hanel said. For those who don’t own a Ring product, they can still participate by downloading the Neighbors app that pushes notifications and gives people an opportunity to participate in the community news feed, such as viewing videos and receiving safety notifications from DPD. The police department plans to use the safety portion more frequently by posting safety tips each week, Hanel said, especially since October is Crime Prevention Month.

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Dickinson Police Capt. Joe Cianni first brought the idea up to his fellow police officers when he heard how some other agencies we’re partnering with Ring and the Neighbors Public Safety Service — which is the interface that allows public safety officials to connect, communicate and share hyper-local updates with its communities.

On its launch date of Oct. 11, a Dickinson resident shared footage that showed two individuals stealing pumpkins off of the homeowner’s front porch. Hanel said that this notification would alert other area neighbors that this type of activity is occurring and potentially incorporate another set of eyes on this incident. Hanel added that this app could potentially make a good identification in cases such as the pumpkin pirating, and could lead to arrests.

“... I already see the potential that it’s going to have with being able to partner with the community,” Hanel said.

With the app including a platform for lost pets, Hanel said that it will allow for quicker unification to help locate animals. Neighborly Moment is another feature on the app that highlights random acts of kindness that are caught on a doorbell camera and are posted in the Neighborhood feed.

Hanel noted that this will allow the police department to publish a wide variety of community outreach posts that will get pushed to the Neighborhood feed. Those posts can include requesting for assistance — which follows the similar format of DPD’s Surveillance Camera Registration and Mapping Program . For example, if there’s an uptick in vehicle thefts, Hanel said that they would put out a request for assistance to have Neighbors users check their cameras and notify law enforcement if they see something suspicious that could aid police officers in their case by sharing it straight from the app.

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A broad circle shows crime that occurred in Dickinson through the Neighbors app. (Contributed / Neighbors app)

This program is completely voluntary, Hanel said, adding that residents have 100% control over their footage. The app keeps privacy and confidentiality intact. For example, it won’t show the exact house address where a crime occurred; the app puts the incident in a “broad coverage circle so the house can’t be identified,” he said. When people post to the Neighborhood feed, it will list that user by an anonymous “Neighbor #.”

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As DPD launches this program for its first week, Hanel hopes to see “a good influx of citizens” download the app and join in on the collaboration process.

“Long term, we hope that this is now another tool that will shorten the timespan of us being able to make an arrest or solve a case based on some piece of evidence that a citizen provided. So having citizens involved in the crime fighting effort not only bolsters our capabilities of solving those crimes quickly, but it emphasizes that we’re a community that cares for one another and that we like to live in a crime-free environment,” he said.

The Neighbors app works like most social media apps, Hanel said, adding that it is user-friendly. For additional information on the Neighbors app, visit neighbors.ring.com .

Jackie Jahfetson is a former reporter for The Dickinson Press.
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