Emails Show The LAPD Cut Ties With The Citizen App After Its Started A Vigilante Manhunt Targeting An Innocent Person
from the well-thank-fuck-for-that dept
It didn’t take long for Citizen — the app that once wanted to be a cop — to wear out its law enforcement welcome. The crime reporting app has made several missteps since its inception, beginning with its original branding as “Vigilante.”
Having been booted from app stores for encouraging (unsurprisingly) vigilantism, the company rebranded as “Citizen,” hooking um… citizens up with live feeds of crime reports from city residents as well as transcriptions of police scanner output. It also paid citizens to show up uninvited at crime scenes to report on developing situations.
But it never forgot its vigilante origins. When wildfires swept across Southern California last year, Citizen’s principals decided it was time to put the “crime” back in “crime reporting app.” The problem went all the way to the top, with Citizen CEO Andrew Frame dropping into Slack conversations and live streams, imploring employees and app users to “FIND THIS FUCK.”
The problem was Citizen had identified the wrong “FUCK.” The person the app claimed was responsible for the wildfire wasn’t actually the culprit. Law enforcement later tracked down a better suspect, one who had actually generated some evidence implicating them.
After calling an innocent person a “FUCK” and a “devil” in need of finding, Citizen was forced to walk back its vigilantism and rehabilitate its image. Unfortunately for Citizen, this act managed to burn bridges with local law enforcement just as competently as the wildfire it had used to start a vastly ill-conceived manhunt.
As Joseph Cox reports for Motherboard, this act ignited the last straw that acted as a bridge between Citizen and one of the nation’s largest law enforcement agencies, the Los Angeles Police Department. Internal communications obtained by Vice show the LAPD decided to cut ties with the app after the company decided its internal Slack channel was capable of taking the law into its own hands.
On May 21, several days after the misguided manhunt, Sergeant II Hector Guzman, a member of the LAPD Public Communications Group, emailed colleagues with a link to some of the coverage around the incident.
“I know the meeting with West LA regarding Citizen was rescheduled (TBD), but here’s a recent article you might want to look at in advance of the meeting, which again highlights some of the serious concerns with Citizen, and the user actions they promote and condone,” Guzman wrote. Motherboard obtained the LAPD emails through a public records request.
Lieutenant Raul Jovel from the LAPD’s Media Relations Division replied “given what is going on with this App, we will not be working with them from our shop.”
Guzman then replied “Copy. I concur.”
Whatever lucrative possibilities Citizen might have envisioned after making early inroads towards law enforcement acceptance were apparently burnt to a crisp by this misapprehension that nearly led to a calamitous misapprehension. Rather than entertain Citizen’s mastubatorial fantasies about being the thin app line between good and evil, the LAPD (wisely) chose to kick the upstart to the curb.
The stiff arm continues to this day. The LAPD cut ties and has continued to swipe left on Citizen’s extremely online advances. The same Sgt. Guzman referenced in earlier emails has ensured the LAPD operates independently of Citizen. When Citizen asked the LAPD if it would be ok to eavesdrop on radio chatter to send out push notifications to users about possible criminal activity, Guzman made it clear this would probably be a bad idea.
“It’s come up before. Always turned down for several reasons,” Guzman wrote in another email.
And now Citizen goes it alone in Los Angeles. In response to Motherboard’s reporting, Citizen offered up word salad about good intentions and adjusting to “real world operational experiences.” I guess that’s good, in a certain sense. From the statement, it appears Citizen is willing to learn from its mistakes. The problem is its mistakes have been horrific rather than simply inconvenient, and it appears to be somewhat slow on the uptake, which only aggravates problems that may be caused by over-excited execs thinking a few minutes of police scanner copy should result in citizen arrests.