The neighborhood watch app Citizen has been actively testing a new product that would allow users to request on-demand private security forces, according to a Vice report based on leaked internal documents and anonymous sources within Citizen.
According to internal emails obtained by Vice, the on-demand security product would allow Citizen app users to request the deployment of a private security force. The company has already been "actively testing" the program and recording the average response time of several of the potential security contractors.
Citizen has reportedly been working with the private security contractors Securitas and Los Angeles Professional Security as part of the testing program. It has also been corresponding with the Los Angeles Police Department. In a leaked email, the LAPD said the program could be a game-changer, though the department declined Vice's request for comment.
Citizen currently acts as a neighborhood watch app. It integrates police scanner data and user-reported incidents to provide a map of neighborhood crime.
The addition of private security forces represents a significant escalation in potential ramifications of false or mistaken reports made through the Citizen app. The app already has a troubled history when it comes to vetting reported crime information — for instance, it recently falsely identified a homeless man in California as the culprit in an arson case. Citizen offered a $30,000 bounty for its users to track down the falsely-accused man. They circulated his photo to some 861,000 people, according to The Guardian.
There's also the question of whether the Citizen on-demand product is indicative of a broader trend of private security contracting in the U.S. In countries where inequality is particularly high — in South Africa and Brazil, for instance — private security forces tend to be more prevalent.
Economic disruptions associated with the coronavirus pandemic have greatly exacerbated global inequality. Billionaires in the U.S. saw their collective net worth increase by $1.1 trillion mid-March 2020 and January 2021, according to studies conducted by the Institute for Policy Studies and Americans for Tax Fairness. At the same time, U.S. poverty rates rose 2% in the second half of 2020, with the impacts disproportionately felt by African Americans, children and those with a high school education or less.