Crime-Reporting App Citizen Apparently Attempting To Get Into The Law Enforcement Business

from the bad-ideas-from-worse-people dept

It looks like app developers want to be cops. Late last week, a Los Angeles resident spotted a Citizen-app branded patrol car roaming the city. Citizen is yet another app that allows residents to send crime alerts and other news to each other, following in the steps of Ring’s Neighbors app and Nextdoor, a hyperlocal social media service that only lets actual neighbors connect with each other.

The only thing missing here is the replicant hunters.

“Few things make you feel like you live in a bleak dystopian reality like a Citizen App patrol car that looks like a cop car,” Brandon Wenerd tweeted, along with a photo of the vehicle, on Wednesday.

The all black vehicle with tinted windows has the Citizen logo emblazoned across its side, as well as Citizen’s tagline “Making your world a safer place” and the phrase “Private Patrol.

Also emblazoned on the dystopiamobile was the logo for Los Angeles Professional Security, a private security firm with its own fleet of vehicles. That only added to the list of raised questions about the app and its plans for the future.

Like any other app or service that allows locals to report crime and other suspicious activity, Citizen has proven to be a handy conduit for bigots and racists to expose their biases and, unfortunately, find like-minded “citizens” in their area. This app may have been more empowering than most. It allows users to send crime alerts and Citizen encourages the livestreaming of crimes in progress. While it may not actually encourage users to don their Batsuits and start fighting crime on their own, the app did make its debut under the name “Vigilante.” Its booting from Apple’s app store resulted in its less-overtly-worrying rebrand.

But here’s what’s actually going on: Citizen wants to get into the cop business. That’s according to internal documents shared with Joseph Cox and Motherboard shortly after residents began reporting the existence of this Citizen-branded mock cop car.

Crime and neighborhood watch app Citizen has ambitions to deploy private security workers to the scene of disturbances at the request of app users, according to leaked internal Citizen documents and Citizen sources.

[…]

“The broad master plan was to create a privatized secondary emergency response network,” one former Citizen employee told Motherboard. Motherboard granted multiple sources anonymity to protect them from retaliation from the company.

“It’s been something discussed for a while but I personally never expected it to make it this far,” another Citizen source told Motherboard.

The car observed on the streets is Citizen’s “security response” vehicle. Presumably, Citizen is planning to add more cars to this fleet so it can better serve users who feel they might need some additional security. Whether that includes responding to calls of crimes in progress remains to be seen, but the addition of Los Angeles Professional Security to the mix suggests that it does. This firm offers a “subscription law enforcement service” that includes a “potent combination of technology, K-9 support, and patrol personnel.”

That’s not the only private security firm in the mix.

Citizen has been actively testing the program, with what the company describes as quick response times and instant communication between Citizen and security partners, according to the emails.

One of those companies, according to the emails, is well-known private security contractor Securitas. The email about the tests says that Securitas average response times have improved to around 20 minutes.

It looks like Citizen believes there’s a large market for private cops. Unfortunately, it looks like local law enforcement agrees. According to internal emails seen by Motherboard, Citizen approached the Los Angeles Police Department with its proposal to expand into the police business and this was (allegedly — we are talking about a document that will probably be used to market Citizen to other cop shops) warmly received by LAPD officials, who said it would be a “game changer.”

And, to be sure, it might be. Los Angeles has a property crime problem cops can’t seem to fix. Adding roving bands of vigilantes would be a “game changer” too, but no one really thinks that’s a solution. That’s just an additional problem. Citizen’s expansion may change the game, but it also encourages Citizen to embrace the ideals that saw it debut as “Vigilante.”

We don’t need tech companies thinking they’re just an extension of the government, especially the parts of the government allowed to deploy deadly force and deprive people of their freedoms. Blurring the line between public and private tends to work out poorly for those supposedly being served by these partnerships. Members of the public will be expected to treat both as law enforcement, even though only actual cops have the power to enforce the law. Private companies can do things cops can’t — like engage in searches of property ostensibly under their control — and cops can swoop in and directly benefit from searches they themselves cannot legally engage in. The end result will be more government power — not derived from laws or Constitutional amendments but from app developers who see themselves as crime fighters.

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Comments on “Crime-Reporting App Citizen Apparently Attempting To Get Into The Law Enforcement Business”

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57 Comments
Bloof (profile) says:

Re: Brilliant

Teachers unions don’t vote for them, while police unions do so they’ll be the only public service free from privatisation attempts.

Uber Vigilantes are a horrible idea, people will be murdered as a result of this, but douchebag libertarian tech bros don’t care, venture capitalists don’t care as they all know they’ll never be held personally responsible for the inevitable results of their service.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

or raised his voice at them. Made threatening finger gestures (for all you know you’re talking to a master of the Middle Finger Poke). Was being brown, liberal or gay all up in your face.

The problem with "stand your ground" laws is that a dumbass redneck can get away with literal murder as long as he can believably claim he was fearing for his life because he’d heard gay cooties could give you cancer.

And sadly, all too many juries in the US would have to assert that "Yes, he truly believed that. Justifiable self-defense it is".

bobob says:

The "problem" with a free society is that some criminals go free so that many innocent people are not imprisoned. Everything has a price and if you want to live in a free society, that has a price. The price of a police state is that many people are imprisoned without the opportunity to defend themselves in a fair trial and everyone is watching everyone else. There is no such thing as a perfect system, but it appears that the acceptance of apps like the one mentioned above indicates the public is willing to pay the price of a police state for the false sense of security being promised.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Good to hear those damn women and black people demanding freedom and the vote are, in your opinion, still criminals.

Some laws are good, others are bad. And a quick google of "dumb laws" will show you hundreds of examples of flat-out insane legislation for which no rational person would demand a person be condemned as "criminal".

If you can ask a convict doing 20 to life what he did and his answer is something for which most of the G20 has misdemeanor charges or six month sentences then the problem is likely with the law, not the person.

Shaun Wilson (profile) says:

No qualified immunity

On the plus side, not being public "servants" means that that laws actually (at least in theory) apply to them. They incorrectly storm a house and it’s armed robbery, assault, kidnapping etc instead of Tuesday like it is for police. Their guns likely don’t "discharge" on their own instead it should be that they actually shoot someone (them, not the gun on it’s own) and can be charged for it.

Note I’m not expecting them to actually perform better than cops but it seems hard for them to do worse and it would seem to require less political will to punish them for their inevitable misdeeds than it appears to need with regards to actual cops.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
bobob says:

Re: No qualified immunity

That doesn’t do much to help the person who was shot. In Texas, with it’s new "Constitutional Carry" bill, how do you think that will play out? A lot of dead people whose killers are in court arguing as to why they were justified in shooting someone is something we don’t need to even consider as being useful to enforce laws. I’m waiting for the first old west style gunfight to settle an argument in a bar.

Shaun Wilson (profile) says:

Re: Re: No qualified immunity

As I said, the primary bennefit is the ability to actually get them into court as opposed to what happens with cops. From what I can tell you already have that same situation you describe with real cops and they don’t even have to argue justification just say the magic words "qualified immunity" and the case is dismissed.

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bobob says:

Re: Re: Re: No qualified immunity

The solution is dispensing with qualified immunity, not letting citizens live in a grey area as pretend law enforcement. It’s always better to deal with the real problem that a workaround that only compounds the problem.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: No qualified immunity

I’m waiting for the first old west style gunfight to settle an argument in a bar.

That’s a Hollywood meme more that a historical occurrence. Most western town forbade the carrying of guns inside the town, because they knew alcohol and guns is a bad mix.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Koby (profile) says:

Re: No qualified immunity

On the flip side, not being law enforcement has some other consequences. Such as no body camera requirement. Nor must they call in for medical help, if they don’t want to. Private security will likely demonstrate a great deal of selective enforcement, when they know exactly who is cutting their paycheck.

Shaun Wilson (profile) says:

Re: Re: No qualified immunity

You may have a point there with regards to body cameras. With police, currently they have such a weight of the historical assumption of their benevolance that police testimony is sometimes given more weight than video recordings. But with this lot if they used body cameras from the start (and were regularly forced to release the footage) then the myth of their infalability might never have the chance to build up.

But on your other points: cops already engage in denying medical care and selective enforcement, have you never read any news story about cops in the last decade or so?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

You may be right about my optimism.

But one thing that private security will have to carry is insurance, as opposed to police who have an unlimited amount of taxpayer money to burn through. Insurance might not have a ‘risk pool’ for a handful of dumbfucks who burn through their liability in a month or two.

AnonyOps says:

This is no different than lynch mobs. They’re trying to put a pig in lipstick and a fancy mudhole.

So when a gang banger calls Citizen on another gang banger, who gets shot by a .40mm?

So when a Karen calls Citizen on another Karen, which Karen gets the fruitcake hashtag?

So when a Latino calls Citizen on a racist citizen, which side is the Neo-nazi race soldier supposed to take?

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
PaulT (profile) says:

"Crime and neighborhood watch app Citizen has ambitions to deploy private security workers to the scene of disturbances at the request of app users"

So… rather than defund the police and ensure that non-police services more qualified to address certain types of issues are deployed, they want to… dispatch a lynch mob to the location given to them by whatever Karen decides a black person is looking suspicious? Yeah, I’m sure that will end well.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Exactly! If we want to solve issues with the way law enforcement works here, we need to be doing what they do i countries like Norway to train police. There, it’s a three year bachelor’s degree, being a police officer is an elite profession and the acceptance rate for the number of applicants is not very high. Another example is Iceland. There has been one fatal police shooting.

Raising the standard for people to become law enforcement to that equivalent to a university degree in terms of training such that it really elevated the job to an elite profession, would go a long way. Anyone carrying gun and having powers of arrest ought to meet very stringent standards.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

"Anyone carrying gun and having powers of arrest ought to meet very stringent standards."

Yeah, but you know…in the US that’d mean you’d have a job with a high standard of professionalism and ethics for which you should probably get well paid as well. You’d have to get the public to pay for the education and that shit only works with the citizenry if the end product is a genuine soldier, by god. Not a flatfoot whose job it is to walk around keeping the street safe for "decent" folk.

Bear in mind we’re talking about the sort of citizenry which honestly believes money spent rehabilitating and educating criminals is wasted because no one ever becomes a criminal out of necessity in their minds. They’ll never accept an expensive and elite police force because "everyone" knows how to spot a Bad Guy. They’re usually black and/or poorly dressed.

Honestly, there’s only one good way to sustainably address this problem; you can’t afford to have a citizenry which consists to 30% of utter, blistering morons. Once only 1 in 20 of the people are maliciously irrational this issue will solve itself.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Let’s use the free-speech argument: why should I be forced to tolerate criminal behavior for which anyone else would be arrested just because the perp "has issues?"

These "incidents" involve threats, assaults, weapons, and someone who thinks laws simply don’t apply to them. Sending "counselors" is a recipe for disaster.

We’ve had private security forever.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

"why should I be forced to tolerate criminal behavior for which anyone else would be arrested just because the perp "has issues?""

Depends on who "you" are. If you’re a private citizen with no business being there except you decided your app made it your business, you don’t have to tolerate anything. You can just walk away. If you’re a neighbour, then you call the proper authorities, which will hopefully include someone more qualified than the average lynch mob wannabe or beat cop if the situation required it.

"These "incidents" involve threats, assaults, weapons, and someone who thinks laws simply don’t apply to them"

These incidents quite often involve people under the influence of drugs or mental health problems for which the best response is not "send out a roided up thug to give them 30 seconds to calm down before shooting them". Other countries manage to deal with them without vigilantes or shootings.

"We’ve had private security forever"

Also very specific restrictions on what they can do, for good reason.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Other countries just lock them up as if they were not mentally ill.

These people have already broken the law and are literally asking to be treated like unique snowflakes.

My "business" there is tended by the police, who act as my proxy. Someone who assaults a police officer is assaulting ALL law-abiding citizens and ignoring a clear warning that they could be locked up. Those who want "alternatives" to policing are literally asking that the laws that protect ME be suspended for these people.

Why should I be forced to "host speech I don’t want" by letting this person escape arrest (through my proxy, the police)? Our society has rules for those who wish to remain free.

Treatment should be an alternative to imprisonment after a conviction. It’s like the people who want to cancel rent yet ignore that we have bankruptcy courts for that.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
bobob says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

No, "other countries" don’t just lock them up. The ones that do are the same ones no one here would live in. Most of Europe does not "just lock them up." The countries with the lowest crime rates do not "just lock them up." The US just locks them up, which is why the US has more prisoners than any other country in the world.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

British police are given a basic training on how to deal with the mentally disturbed. It takes a calm patient ans non-aggressive approach. This results in them being able to get an obviously psychotic person, who is waving a sword at things only they can see, to hand over the sword, and get into the police car, so that they can take them to the mental hospital. Both remained in view, and batons remained in their holsters, oh and no handcuffs were used either.

The Typical US police approach is an aggressive weapons drawn approach, screaming conflicting orders, with as many cops who can get there joining in the party. That is an approach guaranteed to make matters worse, and in many countries would result in murder charges being bought.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

What is this story you are inventing here? We went from "mentally ill" to "said person is assaulting cops" in less than a second.

Most of that never happens. It’s the cops doing the assault because they didn’t like being ignored or whatever. (See also: Deaf "snowflakes" interactions with cops suffering from authoritarianism poisoning.)

But since all the people "with issues" should apparently be locked up, well, that’s most cops right there so maybe a good tradeoff.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

"Other countries just lock them up as if they were not mentally ill."

They really don’t. Not only do other countries not feed the private for-profit system with huge amounts of new bodies for the sake of said profit, they make it unlikely that will even be on the table if there’s other options available, especially for people with know histories of mental health issues.

"These people have already broken the law and are literally asking to be treated like unique snowflakes."

Hey, good to know that every single interaction is with a criminal who has been found by a court of law to be guilty and deserve punishment at the hands of any random citizen who happens to be nearby. Otherwise that comment would be really, really stupid.

"My "business" there is tended by the police, who act as my proxy"

OK, so why the call for random vigilantes to dive in?

"Our society has rules for those who wish to remain free."

Yes, things like due process do exist. Oh, you’re being stupid and you think that Judge Dredd is a documentary? OK…

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

"Other countries just lock them up as if they were not mentally ill."

You mean the rogue states and nations of the world? Yes. They do.

You mean the European Union and other enlightened nations? No, they don’t. And I’ll ask you to not fscking lie about the place I live in to make your point.

The reason we are suggesting rehabilitation rather than just incarceration is because that’s what we do in other nations. And it apparently works since the US stands alone in being a monumental fsck-up in both law enforcement and the unbelievable number of incarcerated petty criminals of whom some 80% could be productive citizens with counseling, education and, to rather a large extent, the right dose of adderall.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

These "incidents" involve threats, assaults, weapons, and someone who thinks laws simply don’t apply to them.

Let’s use the second amendment argument: so what if they’re armed? A disability should not constitute grounds for the automatic per se denial of any right or privilege, including gun ownership . – ACLU

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That One Guy (profile) says:

Oh look, plausible deniability

Yeah, not too hard to see why the local police would be all over this, a bunch of goons who get to act as their unofficial proxies, aren’t bound by the same restrictions since they’re just ‘concerned citizens’ going about their lives and if they screw up then they can be tossed under the bus as the police claim they had nothing at all to do with the band of roving wanna-be vigilantes.

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