Crime awareness app Citizen has been planning to trial a version of its product in Chicago which would give customers access to an on-demand private security force in partnership with security service giant Securitas, Motherboard has learned.The news follows Motherboard’s revelation in May last year that Citizen tested a similar service with two different private security firms in Los Angeles, according to leaked emails. Now, Citizen has been planning to revive its private security service, but this time in Illinois’ principal city, multiple sources with knowledge of the plans told Motherboard.
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The second trial indicates that Citizen has not given up on the idea of an on-demand private security force for its users, raising questions about the role of private companies in keeping individuals and communities safe, and the sort of biases that Citizen users may bring with them into the use of such a security firm.“It’s a slippery slope to private policing,” one of the sources said. Motherboard granted multiple sources in this article anonymity as they weren’t permitted to speak to the press. “Any security force being dispatched by a non-governmental agency with a profit mindset will eventually end up doing evil whether it’s intended or not,” they added.
Citizen has partnered with Securitas for the Chicago trial, the sources said. The idea is that Securitas would function as a check-in service for users, one of the sources said. If a user contacts Citizen about a break in, Securitas could follow up later with the user and verify everything is okay after the event was reported to the police. Or, a store owner could schedule an event such as needing private security when locking up their property at night, the source said.
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Citizen repeatedly declined to answer specific questions from Motherboard about the Chicago plan in emails around two weeks ago. A Citizen spokesperson told Motherboard in an email that “We’re always exploring product features and partnerships that can help keep Citizen users and our communities safer. To unlock the incredible potential that mobile safety has for people and cities, we believe we should bring together all types of safety resources to your fingertips.”Securitas declined to comment. The Chicago Police Department did not respond to a request for comment.When Citizen trialed a partnership with a private security forces in Los Angeles back in May last year, workers drove around the city in a Citizen branded vehicle and responded to request calls from Citizen employees who were helping test the response time of the service. That trial differed slightly from the planned Chicago one, in that it was designed for private security to rapidly respond to someone in danger and evacuate them to safety, rather than perform check-ins or arrive at a previously scheduled time. In one case, a private security guard arrived at a Citizen employee’s location in 10 minutes, according to the previously leaked emails. One of the sources said Securitas’ response time was not nearly that quick when it came to actually using the service, though, hence the change in approach in the planned Chicago trial.
“Making Your World a Safer Place,” the all black vehicles with tinted windows and the Citizen logo emblazoned on the side, read.The Los Angeles trial marked a dramatic expansion of Citizen’s purview. At the moment, Citizen workers listen to police scanner audio and write push alerts and “incidents” based on what they hear. Citizen then alerts nearby users to events close to them. Citizen also offers Protect, a $20 a month subscription service where a user can have a Citizen worker or “digital bodyguard” follow their location or call 911 on their behalf.But in part because of its unusual position of being half safety app, and half revenue driven startup, Citizen has spearheaded a number of controversial projects in an apparent attempt to generate more users. As well as the private security pilot, in May the company offered a $30,000 bounty at the direction of Citizen’s CEO Andrew Frame for information that would lead to the arrest of a man that Citizen suspected had started a wildfire in the Palisades neighborhood of Los Angeles. The person that Citizen put on blast with his full name and photo was not actually responsible for the fire. Last week, Motherboard reported that Citizen has explored expanding a form of its service to war-torn Ukraine by sourcing footage from broadcaster CBS (CBS News previously told Motherboard that discussions took place, but they did not materialize).For its Los Angeles trial, Citizen worked with Securitas and Los Angeles Professional Security (LAPS), another private security firm, according to the leaked emails obtained by Motherboard. In a statement given to Motherboard during the Los Angeles trial, a Citizen spokesperson said “LAPS offers a personal rapid response service that we are testing internally with employees as a small test. For example, if someone would like an escort to walk them home late at night, they can request this service. We have spoken with various partners in designing this pilot project.” The internal emails said that Citizen pitched the security response service to the Los Angeles Police Department at a high level, who said that the solution could be a game changer. Citizen said the Los Angeles trial ended after 30 days.Lauren Kaori Gurley contributed reporting.Subscribe to our cybersecurity podcast, CYBER. Subscribe to our new Twitch channel.