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Citizen app wrongly accuses homeless man of starting a California wildfire and sends his photo to users along with the offer of a $30,000 bounty which was being paid for by the company's CEO

 The CEO of Citizen reportedly ordered a $30,000 ‘bounty’ to anyone who ‘hunts down’ a homeless man identified by the public safety app as the person who started a Southern California wildfire.

On Friday, The Verge reported that Citizen CEO and founder Andrew Frame personally authorized an unorthodox $30,000 bounty to 'hunt down' an arsonist - but put the money on the wrong man's head.

The app pushed the bounty out in an alert to users in Southern California last Saturday, but included a picture of a homeless man, Devin Hilton, who was later released by the police for lack of evidence.

Cerise Castle, a Los Angeles-based reporter, wrote on her Twitter feed last Sunday that broadcasters on the Citizen App’s ‘OnAir’ feature were encouraging users to ‘hunt this guy down’ based on unsubstantiated ‘tips.’

‘We know this guy is out there,’ one of the broadcasters is quoted as saying.


‘We need our users to get out there and bring this guy to justice.’

The Palisades Fire destroyed some 1,200 acres before it was brought under control by Friday. 

Contact information for Hilton was not immediately available. 

The Los Angeles Fire Department announced over the weekend that it had arrested a different homeless man, 48-year-old Ramon Rodriguez.

The app pushed the bounty out in an alert to users in Southern California last Saturday, but included a picture of a homeless man, Devin Hilton (pictured), who was later released by the police for lack of evidence

The app pushed the bounty out in an alert to users in Southern California last Saturday, but included a picture of a homeless man, Devin Hilton (pictured), who was later released by the police for lack of evidence

Investigators allege Rodriguez used an incendiary device to ignite the May 14 fire in the Santa Monica Mountains of Los Angeles County.

Rodriguez faces a felony count each of arson of a structure or forest, and arson during a state of emergency.

He pleaded not guilty and was ordered held in lieu of $350,000 bail. A court hearing has been scheduled for June 1 to determine if there is enough evidence to put him on trial.

The false claim by Citizen and the subsequent arrest of another man has prompted scrutiny of the app and its chief executive.

'Let's find this guy, activate safety network completely,' Frame wrote in an internal message, according to The Verge.

The Los Angeles Fire Department announced over the weekend that it had arrested a different homeless man, 48-year-old Ramon Rodriguez

The Los Angeles Fire Department announced over the weekend that it had arrested a different homeless man, 48-year-old Ramon Rodriguez

'This is a great transition of Citizen back to active safety. We are not a news company. We are safety and we make this sort of heinous crime impossible to escape from. That needs to be our mindset,' the message added.

After the mistaken identity was revealed, the company said in a statement that it is 'actively working to improve our internal processes to ensure this does not occur again.'

'This was a mistake we are taking very seriously,' the statement added.

The Citizen app, first released in 2016, is wildly popular in major cities as a way to track nearby crimes. It is currently available in about 20 large cities.

The app relies on police scanner traffic and user reports, including user-submitted videos, to map reports of nearby crimes and police responses.

Though it has soared in popularity as violent crime has surged in many cities, the Citizen app has also drawn criticism, including accusations that it fosters paranoia or even racism.

Initially named Vigilante, the app was pulled from Apple's App Store over fears it would inspire users to take the law into their own hands, before relaunching under the current name.


Last week, Citizen confirmed reports that it is considering a program to send private security forces to respond to users in distress.

The pilot program was revealed in internal emails leaked to Motherboard, and Citizen confirmed that it is testing the program on a small scale in Los Angeles in a statement to DailyMail.com on Friday.

It comes after a mysterious Citizen-branded patrol vehicle was seen prowling the streets of Los Angeles, which was recently linked to private security firm Los Angeles Professional Security (LAPS).

Flames from a brush fire in the Pacific Palisades area of Los Angeles on May 15

Flames from a brush fire in the Pacific Palisades area of Los Angeles on May 15

The blaze destroyed some 1,200 acres before it was contained by firefighters last week

The blaze destroyed some 1,200 acres before it was contained by firefighters last week

'LAPS offers a personal rapid response service that we are trialing internally with employees as a small test with one vehicle in Los Angeles,' a Citizen spokesperson said.

'For example, if someone would like an escort to walk them home late at night, they can request this service.'

The internal emails described by Motherboard suggest that the new pilot project is part of an ambitious project to expand the company's mission from reporting crime to fighting it.

'The broad master plan was to create a privatized secondary emergency response network,' one former Citizen employee told the outlet.

The product, described as 'security response' in the internal emails, would have Citizen send a car with private security forces to an app user who requested assistance.

One of the emails claimed that Citizen had pitched the security response service to the Los Angeles Police Department at a high level, and received an enthusiastic response.

The Citizen app, first released in 2016, relies on police scanner traffic and user reports, including user-submitted videos, to map reports of nearby crimes and police responses

The Citizen app, first released in 2016, relies on police scanner traffic and user reports, including user-submitted videos, to map reports of nearby crimes and police responses

The app, currently available in about 20 cities, appears to be considering a dramatic expansion into active crime fighting by creating a 'privatized secondary emergency response network'

The app, currently available in about 20 cities, appears to be considering a dramatic expansion into active crime fighting by creating a 'privatized secondary emergency response network'

In recent days, a mysterious Citizen-branded 'private patrol' car has been seen prowling LA. The company says it is piloting a private security force to respond to user requests

In recent days, a mysterious Citizen-branded 'private patrol' car has been seen prowling LA. The company says it is piloting a private security force to respond to user requests

The email said that the LAPD, hit by budget cuts last year and at its lowest staffing level in 12 years, is overrun with property crimes and struggling to respond to those types of calls.

Citizen already offers a personal safety subscription product called 'Protect', which allows a Citizen employee to monitor the user's location when active, and can stream video to the Citizen agent when triggered by a safeword.

Pitched as a 'digital bodyguard,' the service advertises 'Instant emergency response to your exact location' in the event of trouble.

It's not clear if the proposed private security response would be included as part of the Protect package, or marketed separately.

In addition to LAPS, the emails suggest that Citizen is working with Securitas, a private security guard company, for the pilot program.

One email describes a test run by a Citizen employee in Los Angeles, who called in a Securitas guard to escort her to get a cup of coffee.

The email said improvements were needed to the user and agent experience, and that the results were under review with Securitas to make adjustments. 

1 comment:

  1. I didn't know the fire dept. had the authority to arrest people. Aren't most firefighters volunteers? I hope they roast the guy that started this fire.

    ReplyDelete