Crime awareness app Citizen has a much closer relationship to the Los Angeles Police Department than previously understood, including gaining access to data held by the police department and taking tours of LAPD facilities, according to emails obtained by Motherboard.
The emails provide greater clarity about the steps Citizen has taken to work with police departments, and its ambitions to be more greatly intertwined with law enforcement’s systems.
“Let’s connect early next week and see if Ivy has an update about sharing out data from CAD/Goldmine to us more frequently,” Andrew Karn, head of partnerships at Citizen, wrote to an LAPD officer in March 2021.
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CAD appears to refer to the LAPD’s Computer-Aided Dispatch system, which the police department uses to “respond to a dispatch in a quicker, intuitive, and more organized manner,” according to the LAPD’s website. Goldmine is an LAPD database for crime analysis, including radio communications, calls for service, and field data recorders.
Motherboard obtained the emails after filing a public records request. While fulfilling the request, the LAPD pointed to a selection of responsive documents it had previously published on its website, including these emails.
As part of its normal operations, Citizen has workers who listen to police radio scanner feeds, digest information into what the company calls “incidents,” and send localized push alerts to users about what’s going on in their neighborhood. Ordinarily these police radio feeds are publicly accessible. Motherboard previously reported on an internal Citizen document that showed the company believed it would be granted access to the encrypted communications of at least one police department.
In January Motherboard reported that members of the LAPD reevaluated their relationship with Citizen after it placed a $30,000 bounty on the wrong person’s head during a wildfire in the Palisades area of the city.
Access to police data such as that stored by the LAPD would signal a deeper relationship than just listening to public radio traffic. Citizen told Motherboard in an emailed statement “It shouldn't come as a surprise that we engage frequently with law enforcement, public officials and various community groups to assess how we can better share public safety information with Citizen users. We believe our community engagement efforts and taking an open and collaborative approach is critical to ensuring Citizen’s technology supports public safety and helps communities feel more informed and connected.” The LAPD acknowledged a request for comment but did not provide a response in time for publication.
In this case, the LAPD appeared unable to provide more data.
“I took a look at Goldmine after our meeting and unfortunately, while it is possible to generate a spreadsheet, the spreadsheet does not include the data that we’re looking for. There may be another program that can provide us with that data, however, it is not something that I have access to,” Ivy Butler, a crime and intelligence analyst at the LAPD, replied.
The same month that Karn emailed about receiving LAPD data more frequently, the LAPD gave a Citizen employee a tour of a precinct, according to another email.
“Thank you for arranging the meeting and for your hospitality. It was very interesting to be able to walk through the precinct and see how things work on the back end,” a Citizen employee wrote to the LAPD in the email. “I would love to take you up on your ride along offer,” they added.
Then a month later, in April 2021, Capt. Ryan Whiteman, commanding officer at the West Los Angeles Patrol Division, spoke at Citizen’s town hall meeting, according to the emails. The hope was that Whiteman might be able to give Citizen a better sense of his perspective as a leader in the LAPD “and as someone who has incredible insight into safety issues in LA today,” an email written by a Citizen employee reads. Twice a month Citizen invites a guest speaker to talk to around 75 employees to share their perspective on Citizen, another email reads.
After the event, a Citizen employee wrote to Whiteman and said, “We’d like to send you a small token of our thanks and are hoping that you can provide us with your T-shirt size and the best mailing address,” a Citizen employee wrote to Whiteman.
Citizen has also tried to integrate itself more closely with the LAPD in the hunt for missing persons, the emails show.
“I wanted to reach out with some amazing news!” a Citizen employee wrote to an LAPD officer in June. “Recently, a 12-year-old autistic boy went missing in the Bronx for 2 days. We notified all 1.7 million Citizen users in New York City and encouraged them to help in the search.”
This hunt for the missing child was controversial. Citizen broadcast footage of people who tracked the boy down, asked him to accompany them in a vehicle, and drove him back to his family. While the footage was presented as organic Citizen users, they were actually secretly members of Citizen’s so-called street team, who are paid by the company to film events. The event led to internal discussion around whether street team members should be more clearly identified as Citizen workers, Motherboard reported with internal Citizen documents.
“Citizen now has a dedicated 24/7 Missing Persons Desk that works directly with local law enforcement agencies,” the June email continued. “You can work with us to send missing persons notifications to targeted areas.”
“I would love to discuss how we can help LA Police Department use the power of the Citizen network to bring missing people home safely!” the email adds.
Motherboard previously reported that Citizen trialed an on-demand private security force in Los Angeles. According to leaked internal emails, Citizen pitched the security response service to the LAPD at a high level. The email said the LAPD thought the solution could be a game changer.
Update: This piece has been updated with a statement from Citizen.
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