Citizen, a real-time safety app that allows users to better control their personal safety in their immediate vicinity and city, is launching a premium on-demand, personalized around the clock mobile safety product. This game-changing service provides users with direct access to Protect Agents who can provide immediate assistance if they should find themselves in danger. For just $19.99 per month, Citizen’s Protect subscription service builds upon a program that launched in beta earlier this year as part of an effort to expand the Citizen app.
About the Citizen App
Founded in 2017 by CEO Andrew Frame, Citizen is the first safety app to combine location services with vetted local 911 data to keep users better informed of what’s happening in their community.
An expert software programmer who began his career in network infrastructure working at Cisco Systems, where he became the youngest person to receive dual CCIE Certifications, Frame has been a serial entrepreneur since the age of 15 when he founded his first company, an internet service provider. In 2004, he founded a consumer telecommunications company called Ooma, Inc., and became an early advisor to the team that was developing Facebook.
By 2015, Frame founded the tech startup sp0n, and launched an app called Vigilante, an idea that came to him as he was “looking at the backs of former tenements in Lower Manhattan,” and taking note of the network of invisible signals scurrying through those old 19th-century buildings, such as wireless phone signals, Wi-Fi, and police radio signals.
“What if there was a way for smartphones to capture emergency calls?” thought Frame. Within a week of drafting his proposal, the team of engineers at sp0n had developed a prototype under the name Vigilante. Backed by seed funding organized by Founders Fund in the amount of $1 million, the app was developed to “[open] up the 911 system,” explained Frame.
In a company statement, sp0n announced “One of the goals when we founded the company was to create symmetry of information between the community and law enforcement — so nobody has to wonder why there’s a police car on their corner or helicopters overhead. Citizen creates an open, shared safety system where police and citizens can hold each other accountable. This is the only way to rebuild trust between community and law enforcement.”
In 2017 the app was updated and its name changed to Citizen. The Citizen app quickly gained popularity and is currently available for iOS and Android devices in some 60 cities across the United States, and the company is currently working to expand coverage to more cities.
The Citizen app posts reports of safety incidents in specific areas based on emergency radio transmissions and other official sources. The app provides a live video option as well, and anyone with the app can stream video related to relevant local alerts, such as missing children, fires, and rescues to support emergency services even before they arrive at the scene. This user content is vetted by a Citizen analyst to ensure it meets certain criteria to give users the most accurate information possible.
How does the Protect service work?
Whether you’re walking home alone, meeting someone new, going for a run, or just going about your day, Protect allows you to have instant access to help the moment you need it.
The service is essentially a private emergency helpline that harnesses such smartphone features as location tracking. When users open the Citizen app, they can activate Protect to notify an on hand qualified Protect Agent using video, audio, or text 24 hours of the day. Protect Agents are trained to talk users through potentially dangerous scenarios and help them navigate away from the potential danger to a safe location if necessary.
Protect subscribers may request a Protect Agent to do such things as call 911 on their behalf, or notify their emergency contacts to provide location information from the user’s phone. With the subscriber’s consent, a Protect Agent may also create a public Citizen incident, which alerts other users of potential danger in the area.
Citizen users can activate “Protect Mode” by shaking your phone to quickly connect with an agent in cases where it is impossible to make a phone call. If a user is in danger and circumstances make it risky to ask for help directly, a Protect Agent can listen in using your phone’s microphone and call 911 for you if they deem that you are in danger.
What kind of emergency situations would Protect be useful in?
Citizen promotes the Protect feature for use in risky situations that are not yet critical emergencies requiring a call to 911. The company claims that during beta testing, Protect Agents have been vital in deescalating disputes, offering such examples as someone engaged in a heated argument with an unpredictable roommate or neighbor. Taking advantage of the app’s existing capabilities for real-time tracking and monitoring of potentially dangerous behavior on the part of police and law enforcement during protests, the app also reports that some beta users in the Black community have requested protection from Protect Agents in case they are stopped by police.
Protect could be especially useful for individuals who are experiencing threats such as stalking, or even persistent health issues. In many cases, calling a Protect Agent may protect users from the possibility of a police dispatch that could potentially escalate into a violent interaction.
Frame describes the Protect feature as marking an evolution from “a one-way system” safety alert broadcasting system to “a two-way system where users can request help from Citizen.”
During beta testing, Citizen reported that its staff provided support and assistance to about 100,000 users, noting that Protect Agents are hired directly, as opposed to being subcontracted through another security service. Citizen Protect Agents are highly trained safety experts who may have prior professional experience as emergency responders, police dispatchers, or social service professionals. In addition to other training requirements, every Protect Agent is required to complete a four-week Public Safety Telecommunicator certification course that includes training on such things as bias and mental health issues.
Protect is not designed to be a substitute for calling 911 in emergencies. While Protect is essentially an app feature, its true value lies in the team Citizen employs as Protect Agents, and the type of training that these agents receive, that determines how efficiently and effectively they are able to respond to users’ calls.