Citizen Drops Its Plan To Become Private Cops, Claims It Was Never Interested In Forming A Private Security Force
from the that's-not-a-squad-car,-it's-just-a-promo-for-a-nonexistent-service dept
Crime reporting app Citizen has had a pretty wild run in the past couple of weeks. Debuting rather inauspiciously as Vigilante back in 2016, the app was removed from Apple’s store less than 48 hours after its first appearance. It relaunched the following spring as Citizen and remained just another competitor in the virtual Neighborhood Watch scene.
That all changed late last month. Citizen users and employees — urged on by Citizen CEO Andrew Frame — started a manhunt (with a $30,000 bounty) for an innocent homeless person Frame had decided was an arsonist. As the public was still digesting this news, Los Angeles residents spotted a Citizen-branded patrol car making the rounds. Shortly thereafter, current and former employees confirmed the company was interested in getting into the private security business with an eye on becoming more like cops and less like an informational app.
As all of this was going on, some hackers scraped Citizen’s database of recordings and reports, providing a single source for nearly everything uploaded to Citizen, including recordings moderators had hidden from public view. It was also revealed Citizen’s foray into public health had resulted in a leak of users’ COVID status as well as other personal information.
Following a tumultuous half-week, Citizen announced it was abandoning its plan to move into the law enforcement business, something it had always supposedly planned to do and certainly completely unrelated to the steady stream of bad press.
The company began offering the service in Los Angeles last month as a pilot program. During the trial, the service, which included a company-branded squad car, was only available to company employees. For the service, Citizen partnered with a private firm called Los Angeles Professional Security, which describes itself as a provider of “subscription law enforcement.”
But on Tuesday, Citizen ended the program, stating it has no plans to launch a similar service elsewhere.
“This was a small 30-day test that is now complete,” a Citizen spokesperson told CBS MoneyWatch. “We have no plans to launch our own private security force and no ongoing relationship with LAPS.”
But Citizen did have plans, at least according to sources Motherboard spoke to.
“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.
So, this reversal seems to be a reversal, not simply the end of a test run. And if the company has no plans to launch a private security force, why waste the time and money equipping a squad car and sending personnel out to “patrol” Los Angeles? This sounds more like a plan being abandoned because the Overton Window didn’t open quite as far as expected.