FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

What is Citizen?

Citizen helps people stay safe and informed by notifying people of relevant, nearby crimes and emergency incidents in real-time. In addition to providing incident alerts, Citizen also allows users to live stream video or share information about incidents via chat, in an effort to promote community transparency.

Are Citizen users able to report crimes within the app?

No, all criminal activity reported by Citizen is the result of real 911 calls received by emergency services.

Where do you get the information displayed in Citizen?

Every alert on Citizen originates as a 911 call, and our central operations team monitors emergency communications 24/7 to identify and include all credible public safety threats in the app.

How do you decide which alerts to include?

We strive to include any incident that could impact public safety.

Incidents discussed on emergency communications channels are vetted by our central operations team – a group of analysts with backgrounds in public safety, writing and other relevant fields. Our team is trained to make on-the-fly decisions about what goes into the app based on complex criteria and supplementary research.

Where is Citizen available?

Citizen is currently only available in New York City and San Francisco. Bringing Citizen to a new city requires significant infrastructure, and we continue to work on our expansion efforts.

Where did the idea for Citizen come from?

There are 2.5 billion smartphones connecting the world, and we wanted to leverage this network to make the world a better place. As we witnessed the rise of live streaming and mobile applications providing location-based services, we realized there was a source of valuable information no one was touching: the 911 system.

We started Citizen with the belief that if we could harness and democratize this information, the resulting transparency would help make our communities safer.

What is your relationship with local authorities and community organizations?

We are in close, active communication with public officials, former and current members of law enforcement, and a variety of community leaders, including civil rights and anti-violence activists. We plan to continue working closely with these groups as we develop Citizen and expand to new locations.

Is Citizen trying to hold police accountable or improve relations between the police and the community?

We believe Citizen’s transparency has the power to foster active civic engagement to keep communities safer, raise awareness of the good work police and other emergency services do every day, and provide accountability. We hope this transparency can help to heal and protect our communities. 

Does Citizen account for the potential error in emergency reports?

Our operations team takes great care in crafting the language we use to communicate incidents – always updating posts in real time as the situation is clarified, making explicit what information is merely alleged versus what is confirmed, filtering out discriminatory language or cases of racial profiling, and only including descriptions of persons where it is relevant.

How does Citizen deal with racial profiling?

Citizen excludes vague complaints of “suspicious persons” or “suspicious behavior,” in order to avoid instances of racial profiling. Our operations team also removes any non-pertinent descriptions of suspects, when those details are irrelevant to the incident. Our terms of service explicitly prohibit hateful or discriminatory user content, and we constantly monitor our video and chat feeds to remove any inappropriate content immediately. 

Should users ever help or engage with incidents?

Citizen’s mission is to keep people out of harm’s way, rather than putting them in it. We also believe that people are fundamentally good, and that many people will seek to help others when they are capable. Case in point: in April 2017, a Citizen user intervened to free a baby from a locked car after being notified by the app. By giving people better access to public information around emergency incidents, we want to empower users to stay safe and informed, and to also look out for each other when appropriate.

Having better access to this information does not relinquish one’s need to use common sense and good judgement. Citizen’s mission, and our terms of service, do not tolerate any form of interference with emergency responders, or any other reckless, dangerous, or unlawful behavior from our users. Citizen gives you better access to information – not a license to intervene. The job of law enforcement should be left to the professionals.

What are Citizen's best practices for live streaming in the app?

Our terms of service strictly forbid users from endangering themselves or others, and that includes while live streaming in the app. Users must follow all city laws, and avoid disrupting active scenes or law enforcement personnel at all times.

We believe live streaming incidents can provide valuable information and transparency for our communities, if done in a safe and responsible manner. Users should only live stream if they are safe and cognizant of their surroundings. Every time a user presses the “Go Live” or “Record” button, they are reminded of our terms of service and are cautioned against reckless, dangerous, or unlawful behavior.

How do you balance the goal of providing greater transparency with concerns around privacy and surveillance?

We work hard to protect the privacy of victims, witnesses, first responders, and our users. Our team constantly monitors and, if necessary, removes inappropriate or unintended video and chat content. We do not include incident details that could jeopardize the privacy or safety of victims or our users, and we do not share our community’s personal data with any third parties.