ATLANTA — There’s been a lot of talk about the role of police in metro Atlanta communities. Now a public safety app could get the community more involved in emergencies and police transparency.
The app is called Citizen. It tracks police and fire scanners and lets users know if there’s trouble near them.
Bystanders can turn on the app and start streaming what’s happening live.
This summer we saw time and time again how cameras changed the narrative in situations in which Black men were killed by police.
“The police are talking that they want reform, that they want transparency, visibility. We’ve got the tool for that,” said Prince Mapp, head of community and culture for Citizen, told Channel 2′s Dave Huddleston. The app expanded to Atlanta last month and now has more than 17,000 local users.
Citizen touts app users turned heroes in other cities.
In New York a woman using the app spotted a missing person. Mapp said he helped rescue children locked in a hot car after getting an alert on the app.
“You said it kind of helps put people in a situation to be able to help. But isn’t that what the role of the police department is for?” asked Huddleston.
“Absolutely,” Mapp said. “So by no means do we want to obstruct any justice or get involved in police work. What we want to do is create a complimentary strategy.”
Huddleston took the app to Atlanta City Council President Felicia Moore and civil rights attorney Mawuli Davis. They used the app for a week and talked to Huddleston about their experience.
“I don’t have a concern with it at all,” Moore said.
While she was surprised at the high number of Citizen alerts related to gunfire, she though the live video component could be a useful tool in police interactions.
“In a vein of transparency, whether you’re on the scene and loaded up to the app or doing on a live feed on a social media platform, citizens have a right to record video activity of police officers and public safety.”
Davis thinks transparency is a good thing but said cameras everywhere can be unnerving.
Citizen said the live component of the app is monitored by Citizen employees who authenticate the vide, and censor graphic content before it is broadcast.
“Just like any tool, any technology that we have, I think it has to be tempered with wisdom, with very thoughtful behavior and just with moderation,” Davis said.
Davis was also concerned about the possibility of app users creating bigger problems and getting in the way of police activity or inflaming a situation.
“I would hope that there wouldn’t be a group of citizens kind of monitoring, you know where’s, where is this happening so we can go and try to get involved. I would hope that that’s not what this is for,” Davis said.
But what if app users are the ones in the emergency?
“I woke up, I smelled the smoke. And campfire smell isn’t really a common smell in New York City,” Dan Humphrey said. He was asleep in his New York apartment in September 2018 when an alert from his Citizen app woke him up. When he checked his cellphone it was an emergency alert for a fire. “Then I double-checked and took a double take. And I was like, holy cow. That is my apartment.”
Humphrey said an apartment above his was on fire. He said he never heard a fire alarm or sirens and credits the app for waking him up and getting him to safety.
“I think the more aware we can be, you know, (of) our safety and our surroundings, the better off we’re going to be,” Humphrey said.
Firefighters stopped the spread, but Humphrey was grateful to be safely out of the building while they did. Mapp, Citizen’s head of community and culture, said it’s up to people to come up with public safety solutions so we can make informed decisions.
“When you can put the ‘public’ back in public safety where you can actually act in a way where you don’t have to worry about police response,” Mapp said.
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