Smartphone apps touted as aids in fighting crime have become popular among many California users despite the fact that they face less criminal activity than in the past. Apps like Nextdoor, Citizen or Ring doorbells promote themselves as methods to become more aware of the neighborhood and potentially suspicious activities. However, critics say that the apps only serve to stoke unnecessary fears about crime without making the streets safer. They also warn that the programs tend to encourage racial stereotyping and neighborhood exclusion.
Statistics show that violent crime in the United States is at its lowest point in decades, but people continue to report rising fears and uncertainty. There are a number of reasons why people are more afraid of fewer crimes, but many critiques focus on media coverage and social media sensationalism. Some say these apps help to contribute to an environment of unnecessary fear and even encourage it in order to obtain more data from users. For example, Citizen uses a fake shooting alert in the neighborhood in order to induce people to turn on location services for the app, even though it lists a disclaimer below that local alerts are not yet available for people with location deactivated.
Others raise concerns about the racial undertones of the apps. For example, while Nextdoor forums can focus on community activities other than crime, many posts seem to highlight allegedly suspicious behavior that often amounts to people standing or being in an area. In many cases, the people so labeled are people of color.
As a result, these apps can lead indirectly to unnecessary police involvement, detention or even criminal charges against people who were simply living their lives. People who are stopped or searched and then face police questioning or allegations may turn to a criminal defense lawyer to protect their rights.