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Citizen says it’s not starting its own private security force — but it won’t rule out hiring someone else to do it


Citizen, an app that started as a service for real-time crime alerts made waves late last week with news that it was testing a private, on-demand security force, after a company-branded patrol car was spotted in Los Angeles. Now the company has said that test is over, and that it will not launch its own private security force in the future — but would not rule out partnerships with other companies that would accomplish the same thing.

Citizen said Wednesday that the program it had been testing with some of its employees in Los Angeles, which provided those who were part of the test with an on-demand “personal rapid response service” with a third-party provider, has concluded.

The company, a four-year-old startup, is best known for sending local safety notifications to its 7 million users to alert them to nearby incidents such as robberies and fires.

The “personal rapid response service” test, first reported by Vice last Friday, sparked questions and concerns about the potential use cases and pitfalls of on-demand privatized security. A Citizen spokesperson said in a statement Monday to CNN Business that an example of its potential intended use would be “if someone would like an escort to walk them home late at night, they can request this service.”

On Wednesday, as first reported by CBS, a Citizen spokesperson said the company’s 30-day contract with the third party provider, Los Angeles Professional Security, for the trial program is now over.

“We are constantly testing new ideas. We have several tests happening right now, and this was just one of them. This trial included one vehicle in one city. The vehicle was never used for emergency response or patrol,” the spokesperson said in a statement to CNN Business. “This was only ever intended as a pilot program. We have no plans to launch our own private security force.”

The Citizen spokesperson declined to comment on whether the company might in the future hire another third-party private security force to act on Citizen’s behalf.

Another security concept the company is exploring is a subscription service in which users can access a “Protect Agent” for $19.99 a month. According to the company’s App Store listing, Protect Agent “can discreetly help, silently monitor your live location and audio, alert other users, call 911, monitor heart rate through your Apple Watch and more. No situation too big or small.”

The startup has been hammered in headlines over the past week after it offered a $30,000 reward for information that led to the arrest of an alleged arson suspect, but later said it identified the person by mistake. The company used a new product in its app called OnAir to broadcast the information about the suspect, but said it failed to follow its own verification protocols before circulating the information.

“OnAir is designed to be used in limited circumstances when an event puts a large number of people in imminent danger, and it is built on strict validation protocols to limit the spread of misinformation and ensure safety,” the Citizen spokesperson said in a statement to CNN Business. “In the 15 instances it has been used before, those protocols were followed, unfortunately, in this instance, an on-the-ground tip from an LAPD Sergeant was used in place of official confirmation from public safety agencies. We deeply regret our mistake and are working to improve our internal processes to prevent this from happening again.”

The Los Angeles Police Department did not respond to a request for comment.

Citizen originally launched in 2016 as “Vigilante” but was quickly removed from the Apple App Store after it was criticized for encouraging people to rush toward crime scenes to document them. In 2017, it relaunched as Citizen and played down the role of citizens in finding and reporting incidents. The company relies on a mix of technology and humans to comb through police and other emergency dispatches in order to quickly create alerts that populate in the app. Users in the area can upload live video and photos of what they witness or comment on and react to posts.

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