Does a video doorbell really deter burglars?
May 27, 2020 1:33 PM   Subscribe

My neighborhood gets a fair number of burglaries and break-ins. I'm considering a video doorbell (aka doorbell camera aka smart doorbell) as a preventive measure, but it's hard to find any evidence to support this.

None of the innumerable web pages discussing doorbell-cameras show any clear evidence linking them to reduced burglary. I can certainly imagine a deterrence effect, but I'm looking for something beyond conjecture. Is there any basis in case studies, interviews with criminals, statistical models, etc? Or honestly any argument more compelling than blurb on a website paid by affiliate links?

To be clear, I don't care about package theft; my only concern is burglary or home invasion. Also, it's not a motivation to provide video evidence to the police after a crime occurs - my goal is to prevent a burglary, not to help prosecute after the fact.

Also, my wife (who opens the door to strangers) says that she will probably continue to do that with or without a smart doorbell. So is there any value to purchasing one?

Even if you don't have a clear answer or pointers to objective facts, if you've gone through a similar mental exercise on this topic and have some thoughts to share, I'd appreciate them. Thanks!
posted by splitpeasoup to Technology (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Anecdote: NextDoor is a trash fire, but I skim my neighborhood feeds anyway. There have been a lot of posts of video/photo of thieves taking packages off porches, checking/breaking into cars, vandalism -- one memorable person looked right into a Ring and flipped it off as they stole packages.
posted by curious nu at 2:01 PM on May 27, 2020 [3 favorites]

Depends on the neighborhood of course, but typically burglars use a back door or window because they can have several minutes unobserved to effect entry.
posted by SemiSalt at 2:08 PM on May 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

If the breaking and entering is happening at night, motion sensing lights on pathways leading to your entryways will do more to deter breaking and entering than a doorbell camera. I live in a moderately high crime area. If you take any of the reasonable paths towards any entry point (including the back) into my house at night, you'll be lit up along the way and some very obvious motion sensing cameras will light up. Making them aware that they're under observation before they get near an entryway is the goal.
posted by Candleman at 2:11 PM on May 27, 2020 [3 favorites]

After my home was burgled, the police detective told me that any noise making alarm was the best deterrent; even if they broke in, they fled because of the noise. And it doesn't need to be monitored.

( I still haven't done anything towards an alarm but I should.)
posted by mightshould at 3:11 PM on May 27, 2020

So is there any value to purchasing one?

Sure -- if you want to monitor and document what's going on outside your door. But their value as a deterrent is debatable. In my neighborhood, it seems the most common visible deterrent is the little ADT sign near the door but I don't know how effective that is, either.
posted by Rash at 3:12 PM on May 27, 2020

Best answer: Also, it's not a motivation to provide video evidence to the police after a crime occurs - my goal is to prevent a burglary, not to help prosecute after the fact

The main motivation for a doorbell camera is to notify you of a person walking up to your door and using the app to talk to them without opening the door. This gives you the illusion you're home if you're not, and also gives you a theoretical safety net of not opening the door. If your spouse won't use those features I think it's a waste of money.

I don't have objective studies for you but my rationale in this is that you're looking simply to be in the realm of "make my house less attractive than my neighbors" - there's a whole list of things you could add before using the doorbell camera.

Visibly placed Security alarm system signs in front and back walk-ups of your home.
Security alarm system stickers on all ground floor windows.
Beware of Dog sign.
Visible security camera (some don't require subscriptions - or even a non-working one)
Protective behavior when answer doors to strangers (e.g. how does one respond to inquiries about who's home?)
Motion sensing floodlights
Keeping blinds closed.

All of those will cost a fraction of the cost of a doorbell cam with subscription and arguably have relatively the same deterrent value.
posted by Karaage at 3:14 PM on May 27, 2020 [9 favorites]

According to the hellscape that is the Ring Neighborhood Network, there are still people just walking up and trying doorknobs, kicking in doors, stealing packages, digging around in mailboxes regardless, rifling cars. They KNOW the doorbells are there, recording them - my model of Ring not only glows but has visible red lights that come on for night vision.

But I have not yet once gotten a nighttime motion alert that wasn't a cat or raccoon; we have smart bulbs in our porch light that are on dusk to dawn. There's a trick to getting our gate open into the back yard, and the neighbors on that side have a motion light that will come on if you're standing at our gate. So I am inclined to agree that lighting means more than the doorbell.

I dislike the doorbell's association to Amazon and surveillance networks. It is occasionally useful in that our old doorbell's chime was hard/impossible to hear in most of the house, and I get the motion alert when packages are delivered so I generally always bring them in quickly. I do occasionally use it when I'm in my room and think I've heard a weird noise, just to check the front yard. But I also recently bought a cheap little Wyze HD wireless camera to point at my bird feeder (with a simple outdoor enclosure/mount), and I can move it wherever I want and use it to babysit the dogs and point it out the front window if necessary, and it's probably also stealing my data but not yet as comprehensively as Amazon is.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:21 PM on May 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

This recent (2020) academic article suggests that no, cameras do not deter porch theft. There's not a lot of research on this topic, but that does seem relevant even though you aren't worried about package theft specifically. Police departments around the United States have partnered with Ring, which would really give me pause, as this has serious ramifications for civil rights.
posted by k8lin at 4:51 PM on May 27, 2020 [6 favorites]

In the age of COVID, it's laughably easy to have a completely valid and justified excuse for wearing a face covering. If obvious video cameras weren't a deterrent before, they'll be even less of one now.
posted by Aleyn at 4:58 PM on May 27, 2020 [2 favorites]

Also, it's not a motivation to provide video evidence to the police after a crime occurs - my goal is to prevent a burglary, not to help prosecute after the fact.

The police will subpoena the footage regardless, if they are seriously investigating a crime.
posted by praemunire at 7:02 PM on May 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

I'd agree with others that they don't deter crime, as much as allow you to monitor your surroundings and possibly document any incidents. That said, my new laptop was delivered today. The tracking info said it was in or near the mailbox (across the street) but when I went home to get it, the mail person had somehow ninja'ed their way onto the porch and dropped it off without setting off my Ring. So it is possible to maneuver around it, too.
posted by jhope71 at 7:06 PM on May 27, 2020 [4 favorites]

I think there is a very slight deterrent effect if the robber/invader is aware enough to notice it and has enough self-preservation to decide to change targets because of that but isn't feeling industrious enough to troubleshoot around it. I don't think it's enough of an effect that I would get it for that alone.

I own a Ring Doorbell and I do like it for the documentation angle.
posted by vegartanipla at 8:54 PM on May 27, 2020

I'd recommend listening to / reading the transcript of this Citations Needed episode with a lot of info about doorbell cameras, how they're marketed, and the ways they intersect with the media and police.
posted by ludwig_van at 9:37 PM on May 27, 2020 [3 favorites]

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