What chance do crime and corruption have when technology unites the forces of good? And what happens when old school neighborhood watch instincts meld with the phenomena of social media? These are the questions the team behind the Citizen app looks to answer.
In 2014, the Detroit Police Department reported that there were over 43,000 violent and property crime incidents reported. Some of these incidents were life-threatening and some have taken place in broad daylight with dozens of people around.
The Citizen app notifies you when a crime or other major incident is reported to 911 near you. It allows for the live streaming of incidents, giving you complete transparency of the neighborhood around you.
The Citizen app looks to give power to people by creating a space where neighbors look out for neighbors. Alerts about incidents like fires, car collisions, and searches for missing people provide information in real-time, 24/7. The alerts are accompanied by live stories, real-time updates, and user-generated content to provide residents with situational awareness and a comprehensive picture of what’s happening around you.
“Citizen gives you peace of mind so you don’t have to worry about why there are cop cars on your corner or helicopters overhead,” said Ben Jealous, former president of the NAACP and Social Impact investor. “Alerts provide you with public safety information previously only available to first responders. Citizen empowers communities through information equality, enhancing both personal safety and police transparency.”
The app first launched in New York City back in 2017 and the old adage of if you can make it there you can make it anywhere seems to be true. A city with over eight million people is a great testing ground for a user-driven application especially when you take into consideration that in New York City alone there are nearly 10,000 calls to 911 each and every day. According to the company’s website, they have incorporated advice from, and are now in active communication with, city officials, representatives from the Police Department and a variety of community leaders.
“Citizen is a game-changer for public safety,” said Bill Bratton, Former NYPD Commissioner, LAPD Chief, and Citizen board member. “Up until now, we relied only on first responders to provide safety to you. That’s not the way it’s supposed to work. Cops can’t do it alone, and firefighters can’t do it alone. Citizen allows you to collaborate with your community to ensure public safety. I am proud that New York was the first to prove Citizen’s value, and we are excited to bring this technology to the rest of the U.S. People trust Citizen because it works.”
One of the features of the app basically allows you to broadcast what you’re seeing so people can see exactly what you’re seeing—think like going live on Facebook. However, the team behind the app wants to make it clear that they do not encourage untrained users of the app to race towards any given crime scene. According to the terms of service, Citizen was built to create safety; any reckless or dangerous behavior will not be tolerated.
“It’s made a huge difference, giving people a head’s up when there’s a fire, even in their own building,” Jealous said. “It’s helped us find missing kids much faster.”
One great example of Citizen at work is the case of 4-year old Messiah Cummings. On Tuesday, October 16, at approximately 8:31 a.m., Citizen users received an alert for a missing child just after police were called. Messiah Cummings had become separated from his mother as she was attempting to catch a train.
According to reports, as the Citizen app provided real-time updates of the boy’s description and the escalating police mobilization efforts, Messiah somehow made his way to a restaurant supply shop six miles away from where he was last seen with his mother.
At around 10:17 a.m. a shop employee and Citizen user named ‘Mr_Gonz’ used the Citizen app to confirm that this was the child reported missing. With that information, he then called 911 to alert the police that the boy was found.
Messiah was soon taken to an area hospital and was reunited with his mother.
It was later revealed that Messiah was coerced onto another train by a man who had two open warrants, including aggravated harassment and abuse of a young child. This person made no effort to return the child to police or to call 911.
This was a true example of Citizen allowing citizens to keep each other safe–to look out for one another. Citizen app also arms residents with information that can help them decide to avoid the area and gives trained first responders information that allows them to get to a scene of an incident faster. The latter may offer some relief to the many Detroiters who are concerned about police response time.
As we all know not every crime makes the news, but Citizen is providing another way for residents to know what’s going on around them.
Citizen is a free app available for iOS and Android platforms