Citizen crime-fighting app launches in Atlanta

Photo: Citizen

Photo: Citizen

Amber Connor keeps up with what criminals are up to by listening to police scanner traffic and watching for local news bulletins, and often shares updates with contacts via social media.

Always eager for more ways to stay updated, she’d been on the hunt for apps when she stumbled onto Citizen a few months ago. She liked the functionality and timeliness, but it wasn’t yet available in the Atlanta area.

“I thought, it’ll be great when it gets here,” she said.

It’s here. After an unofficial soft-launch period, the app with 5 million users nationwide is now up and running in Atlanta.

“I think it’s a very good app," Connor said. “It gives people a feeling of being more in control of their surroundings."

Citizen employs staff members in each of the cities it serves to monitor police activity and also features live user-generated content, vetted via geofencing.

“We have real people behind the app,” said Prince Mapp, Citizen’s head of community and culture, adding that Citizen does not encourage people to put themselves in harm’s way or interfere with authorities. “We’re a safety app. We want to keep people safe. We don’t want to encourage people to run into a fire. We don’t want to encourage people to try to solve crimes."

Although the app is new to Atlanta, it’s generated a good bit of buzz since launching elsewhere - much of it wary.

“From the beginning, the company has struggled to convince people that its intentions are pure,” Wired wrote.

Philly Mag’s headline for a story about the app: If You’re a Good Citizen, Delete the Citizen Policing App.

These and other media pieces note that the app rebranded after a troubled initial launch. Apple kicked Vigilante, as it was first known, out of its App Store, TechCrunch reported in 2016. The rechristened Citizen appeared in 2017.

Mapp said the privately funded company has taken the blunt analysis and early missteps to heart.

“My goal is to bring humanity to the app,” he said. “We’re mainly focused on what we do right. What we do right is protect people from walking into danger.”

Citizen doesn’t post details about suicides or so-called “suspicious person” reports, given how subjective and potentially discriminatory they can be. The app is quick to post alerts about wrecks but more judicious when reporting on sensitive topics such as fatal shootings.

Sometimes the information isn’t entirely accurate. The app alerted residents to a burglary at a popular Buckhead business recently; it turned out to be a false alarm.

“Shots fired outside Neiman Marcus,” it reported last week. The shooting happened inside.

Still, its growing fan base appreciates knowing about incidents that may not show up in media reports. One area resident let others know about a recent robbery via Nextdoor and Facebook after getting an alert from the app on her phone and noted, “I would have never known if I didn’t have the Citizen App."