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The Citizen app sends crime alerts to your phone, WRTV investigates their accuracy

Posted at 6:27 PM, Jun 02, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-06 08:38:03-04

INDIANAPOLIS — The Citizen App launched in Indianapolis two years ago and is already in 60 other cities across the nation.

The app sends alerts to those nearby when there's a reported crime, but the information it sends isn't confirmed by local law enforcement.

Citizen App employees are listening to scanners and sometimes within seconds of a 911 call coming through, they send out alerts about those calls.

The alerts can range from shootings, traffic accidents, burglaries and more.

Vice President of Operations for the Citizen App, Andy Iro, says since launching in Indianapolis in March 2020, millions of notifications have been sent to resident's phones.

"I think it speaks out to ideal people are leaning on Citizen's platform," Iro said.

But the information isn't always accurate according to the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department.

"We have expressed our frustration to Citizen," IMPD Lt. Shane Foley said.

Foley said the department has had to contact the app several times to correct misinformation.

"We expect the information to be accurate. The frustrating part is sharing inaccurate information with the community it could potentially get members of our community hyped up thinking bad things are happening in our community when they are not. We hope in the future they are accurate," Foley said.

The most recent incident concerning the community happened just over a week ago.

Less than 24 hours after the deadly mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, an alert went out that seven people were shot in Indianapolis.

That information was false and was on the app for around eight hours, according to IMPD.

"Unfortunately, we overheard some info over our police radios we misinterpreted that information and updated that info incorrectly. It was later updated," Iro saod/

Iro says the company takes this mistake very seriously, but says it doesn't represent Citizen's app as a whole.

"We want to be trustworthy and accuracy goes hand and hand," he said.

Although Citizen App says it partners closely with law enforcement, IMPD says it doesn't provide them with information.

"We don't have any direct working relationship with them. We don't provide any information, any resources. We do have a representative we contact, but we don't control what is posted," Foley said.

IMPD also issued a statement saying, "IMPD does not endorse, provide information to support the operations of the Citizen App, or have any control over information they share. IMPD has reached out multiple times to Citizen App to correct inaccurate information or removed information that is sensitive to a criminal investigation, which they did. IMPD has also expressed frustrations and disappointments to representatives regarding inaccurate information causing confusion in the Indianapolis community which we find unacceptable."

WRTV Investigatives asked Citizen's Iro to explain how their employees vet the information posted on the app.

"Behind the scenes, we have our highly trained skilled analysts listening to pieces of information and information coming from external resources. Think Twitter. We listen to information coming in and then posting that information to users again that is in an expeditious fashion," Iro said.

However, this concerns District 22 City-County Councilor, Jared Evans, since information sent to thousands of Hoosiers is mostly based on 911 calls, and social media.

"How do you police that? Again, we are talking about 911 dispatch. Anyone can call 911 and report an incident. We don't know what happened," Evans said. "Citizens are paying attention and when you have murders or shootings happening near you, it stresses people out it stresses families out and often times information presented on those apps is not accurate."

Iro says anyone can live stream on the app, but the content isn't available for other users to see until it's approved by a Citizen's App employee which he says takes seconds.

"I want to be very clear, you can't just open the phone, take a video and now all of a sudden everyone in Indianapolis region can see that video. It goes through extensive moderation before it actually makes it into the platform," Iro said.

Citizen App says it wants to work closer with law enforcement and the community in the future.

The company says one and three Hoosiers have the app which is a number it's proud of it. When asked how beneficial the company felt it was to Indianapolis residents, the company said the numbers speak for itself. It is expanding and currently hiring more people in the area to join its team.