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.
“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.