Citizen — The App That Wants To Be A Cop — Offered A $30,000 Bounty For The Apprehension Of An Innocent Person

from the nice-going,-fuckos dept

Citizen — an app for reporting crime and other suspicious events — wants to be in the police business. The app developers have purchased at least one faux patrol vehicle — co-branded with Los Angeles Professional Security — and have been driving it around Los Angeles, California.

But should private companies be in the business of enforcing the law? Most people would say no. We have enough problems with our actual cops — ones who are supposed to remain on the right side of the Constitution. Private companies don’t have these obligations. That’s why they don’t have the power (or the ability) to take other people’s rights away. But the effort to cloud the lines between public and private is continuous, and it’s going to do additional damage to citizens who are already subjected to the violations perpetrated by government employees.

Let’s not forget that Citizen has always been willing to blur these lines. It debuted as “Vigilante” before its booting from Apple’s app store forced a more friendly rebrand. But Citizen hasn’t abandoned its vigilante principals. The people at the top of the organizational chart are aggressively pursuing private expansion into public law enforcement space and courting some of the nation’s largest police departments.

They’re also living up to the “vigilante” moniker. Prior to the leaks to Joseph Cox and Motherboard, Citizen was publicly and privately urging the public to take justice into their own hands, as Scott Morris reports for The Verge.

As wildfires raged through Southern California last weekend, an app called Citizen offered an unorthodox bounty over livestream and in push alerts to local residents: “hunt down” the alleged arsonist, and we’ll give you $30,000 cash.

This effort was pushed by none other than CEO Andrew Frame. Internal messages from Citizen’s Slack channel show Frame wanted to put Citizen on the law enforcement map by turning users and employees into bounty hunters. Literally.

On Saturday afternoon, before the livestream was broadcast, Frame wrote in a company Slack thread that he would pay a $10,000 reward personally to catch an arsonist still in the area “as a test.”

“Let’s find this guy, activate safety network completely,” Frame wrote, according to screenshots of internal Slack messages obtained by The Verge. “This is a great transition of Citizen back to active safety. We are not a news company. We are safety and we make this sort of heinous crime impossible to escape from. That needs to be our mindset.” The bounty was later raised to $30,000.

LOL. “Safety network.” Whatever. Frame saw this as a chance to turn Citizen from a news receptacle to a newsmaker, despite his mild protestations otherwise. If Citizen could catch a criminal, it would convert it from a receptacle for user videos and police scanner readouts into something that could actually combat crime. Employees were urged on by Frame, who made it clear he had a fever. And the only cure was “MORE VIGILANTISM!” Joseph Cox has obtained even more internal communications about this dangerous farce.

“first name? What is it?! publish ALL info,” Frame told employees working in a Citizen Slack room who were working on the case.


“BREAKING NEWS. this guy is the devil. get him,” Frame said. “by midnight!@#! we hate this guy. GET HIM.”

Huh. Looks kind of like threats in interstate commerce or whatnot. But what do I know. I’m not a cop. Nor do I desire to be one. The plan of action was to fire up the home team. And then let it all burn. In the end, Citizen was just another Reddit, sending amped-up internet vigilantes in search of the wrong person.

In the hours that followed, it became clear the app was mistaken. The man pictured had no connection to the fires, and once he was located by law enforcement, he was quickly released for lack of evidence.

No harm? No foul? Wrong. A person was wrongfully detained as the result of an app’s overzealous CEO and his promise of a $30,000 payout. Citizen apologized soon after, calling it a “mistake” it was “taking very seriously.” It also promised to overhaul its “internal processes.” It seems like the first overhaul should be to prevent its CEO from weaponizing his app and offering bounties for the information leading to arrests. That’s not the business Citizen is in. Yet.

Clearly, Citizen wants more. Andrew Frame got his taste for blood. The blood may have been tainted but it hasn’t deterred Frame and his app from pushing for its addition to law enforcement’s arsenal. But this wielding of its power doesn’t bode well for its intrusion into this space. Sure, cops arrest the wrong people all the time. But that doesn’t mean private companies should get in on this racket. We need less of this, not more. And when apps like these encourage people to act on their impulses, they not only encourage physical manifestations of users’ underlying biases, they place innocent people in harm’s way.

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Comments on “Citizen — The App That Wants To Be A Cop — Offered A $30,000 Bounty For The Apprehension Of An Innocent Person”

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kallethen says:

In the prior article about this company, I was sorely tempted to make a joke along the lines of "why should cops have a monopoly on abusing rights?" I didn’t because a little voice in my head reminded me that we now live in a world where the lines of satire blurr with reality.

This here proves that little voice right. -_-

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

Anonymous Coward says:

"In the end, Citizen was just another Reddit, sending amped-up internet vigilantes in search of the wrong person."

Several internet sites have done this while hiding behind Section 230, which gives them (and the wealthy who hire them to discredit enemies) full cover.

MyLife was just ruled to be a "consumer reporting agency." One day, accusing someone of a crime online should equate to an unsworn statement to law enforcement.

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

Re: Re:

"Several internet sites have done this while hiding behind Section 230"

No… users of several websites have done this, and can be held legally liable for any actions they took, while the site whose property they were using and otherwise had no involvement in the actions are protected from liability for things they do not do.

Once again, your bloodlust for the innocent blinds you to reality.

"the wealthy who hire them to discredit enemies"

As ever, we eagerly await your evidence.

"One day, accusing someone of a crime online should equate to an unsworn statement to law enforcement."

…and on that day hopefully whoever is charged with dealing with the statement isn’t as dumb as you, and they hold the person who actually made the accusation liable, not the nearest innocent bystander.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re:

"One day, accusing someone of a crime online should equate to an unsworn statement to law enforcement."

It already does. It always has been that way. It’s just that the site itself isn’t held responsible – the person who actually posted that comment is. There are about a hundred lawsuits happening every day in the US confirming this fact.

Seriously, you anti-230 guys really expect anyone to take your side when all you’ve got is outright falsehood and evidence that you asshats are all incompetent?

That One Guy (profile) says:

'That man is dangerous, get him!'

Accusing someone of being an arsonist and putting up a bounty for them, I’m actually surprised that that didn’t end up with a body-count.

The more info comes out the more deranged the company and those that run it are exposed as, they really want to play cops and robbers without all those pesky ‘rules’ getting in the way…

Anonymous Coward says:

Keep in mind that this is also on top of the usual bullshit where "an arsonist" or "homeless people" start California wildfires.

[/reads some more articles and fire department reports] Oh, right. A homeless arsonist, of course!

This time, they say they saw the guy hanging around the edge of the fire, and watched him light additional fires. Shocking if true. So now i wonder how the first one (or two?) arrests occurred. How did anyone have an idea for whom they were looking?

Even better, Citizen and the Citizen Clown Posse should have been looking in the wilds right next to the fire if they wanted to catch this supposed arsonist. And… maybe that’s exactly where they should have been.

Anonymous Coward says:

I dont know. I would say we need more not less of private sector involvement in law enforcement as alternative to the cops. At least the private sector are not killing black people. I say we should be more open to alternatives to traditional law enforcement even if they come from the private sector because I’m sick of hearing all the time of cops abusing their powers and getting away with it. Defund the police and lets others do their jobs.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Well, Ahmaud Arbery was murdered by two regular citizens if I recall right. You have a point about Trayvon Martin though. The guy who murdered him didn’t go to prison I recall. Some stupid stand-on -your ground law.

Still, private sector guards dont have that stupid qualified immunity law shielding their bad actions. Who would you rather see guarding school your kids go to, if said school needed to be guarded on daily basis? regular cops or private sector guards the school itself employ assuming it is allowed to and it gets the fund for it? At least, you can get private sector guards fired, you cant with regular cops.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

"Still, private sector guards dont have that stupid qualified immunity law shielding their bad actions."

Except, in many cases, stand-your-ground laws.

Having armed citizens employed to "look for trouble", and a law which allows them to kill with impunity as long as they can credibly claim they "feared for their lives" produces a synergistic effect of fscking horrible out of those two bad points.

G. says:

Honest Donny strikes again...

Ahh, the Trumpian Dystopia.

Perhaps the over-zealous directives of insurrection by Donald to his followers, has led to a more Republican mind-set on the subject of the " Who Is The Bad Guy Now" businesses such as Vigilante. It would seem reasonable that those who actually believed that an armed rebellion against the State was the right move after the Merchant-King was deposed, may indeed be now thinking about the situation in the only way they know how.

How can this situation we caused make me more Money ??

Since the public is pissed at the cops right now, its the "right" time to offer a less ‘storied’, but far more lucrative commercial version of Serve and Protect, that attacks… er… arrests, the "right" people for the "right" reasons.

The timing certainly seems to match nicely. 🙂

Opportunity calls…

And remember, its not personal.
Its just business.

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