A crime-tracking app called Citizen, using police reports, 911 calls, and ambulance dispatches, places red dots of varying sizes on a dark screen. They glow like sirens, indicating where, when and with what intensity things are going wrong. Citizen creates an image of a city coursing with widespread dysfunction each day—for free, and in real time, reports CityLab. Citizen was deployed first in the New York City area in 2016 and then in San Francisco, before launching last month in Baltimore. There’s a big difference between the app’s initial markets—two affluent enclaves that are now enjoying historically low homicide rates—and its third one. Of the 50 biggest U.S. cities, Baltimore reported the highest homicide rate in 2017. Citizen founder and CEO Andrew Frame says that, “Given the escalating crime and lack of public safety resources, Baltimore was a great place to try something new.”
Citizen has a very powerful local booster—the former head of the NAACP and recent Democratic candidate for governor of Maryland, Ben Jealous. He’s a major investor in Citizen, and the one who invited Frame to come to town. “I think the app needs to be in every city in the country,” Jealous says. “What we’re doing is taking a closed information loop that used to only flow to first responders, and including everyone in that loop..” Jeremy Silbert, a Baltimore police public information officer, said the department launched its own free mobile app in 2017, which “allows users to submit tips, locate phone numbers, file police reports, watch our live press conferences,” and more. It takes 30 minutes for the city’s 911 site to update, and not everyone is constantly monitoring municipal crime blotters. Citizen cuts out the wait time, uses a slick smartphone interface, and introduces a layer of human curatorial expertise.