“Citizen, and the premium version, is not the panacea. It will not fix the world’s problems. It will not stop crime from happening all over the world. It’s not that,” Chandler says. “But it is a very powerful way for marginalized communities to make their voices heard.”
“Unfortunately, they don’t have a Chinese helper”
“While the idea of Citizen is brilliant … I do come to this with a healthy dose of skepticism because of the uniqueness of our community,” says OCA’s Kosai. “One of the things that I’m always thinking about is, how accessible is it to members who are most vulnerable?”
He notes that the Asian community in the US encompasses “50 different ethnicities and 100 different languages spoken” and that “different communities interact differently with local law enforcement around these kinds of public safety issues.”
Currently, Citizen is only available in English. To be truly effective, it must offer its services in Chinese or other Asian languages, says Jessica Chen, executive director of the Oakland Chinatown Chamber of Commerce. (In an email, Citizen’s Stone said it is “actively investing” in natural-language processing that “will enable us to translate the app into different languages in real time,” but did not offer specifics or a timeline on those efforts.)
And on a purely logistical level, it can be difficult to help a group adopt a technology when its members have varying levels of technical and news literacy—even more so when English is not their first language. Senior citizens in particular are also likely to need help navigating anything from signing up for the platform to interpreting the information it brings to their attention.
“Do I have time to teach them? Am I the right person teaching them?” asks Chen.
Josephine Hui, a 75-year-old who has lived in Oakland for four decades and regularly commutes to Chinatown to work as a financial educator, was among several elderly people who recently learned about the app at a Citizen-sponsored event cohosted by the Asian Committee on Crime, a nonprofit concerned with safety issues in Oakland, and the Oakland Chinatown Chamber of Commerce. She was there to see public safety presentations by the Oakland Police Department.
“I think [Citizen] is a wonderful app for any people walking on the streets,” she told me there. “Unfortunately, they don’t have a Chinese helper yet.”