Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2803

Article | Open Access

Intersecting Positionalities and the Unexpected Uses of Digital Crime and Safety Tracking in Brooklyn

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Abstract:  Citizen is a live crime and safety tracking app in New York City that uses AI to monitor police scanners for incidences that are relevant to “public safety,” whilst also utilizing user‐recorded footage, as users near a crime, fire, or accident are encouraged to “go live” and film unfolding events. Users comment additional information and post expressive emojis as incidences unravel. In sharing information across a digital network, Citizen functions as both a form of social media and a peer‐to‐peer surveillance app. Through this lens, my ethnographic research investigates the impact of the digitization of crime and safety as an everyday experience in increasingly gentrified neighbourhoods in Brooklyn. The question of whether technology is a marker of simultaneous inclusivity and exclusivity speaks to the dialectical nature of digital technology, as producing concurrent “good” and “bad” effects. This article explores the ways that Citizen exemplifies these tensions: The app makes users feel safer but also more anxious; Citizen is a place for community information sharing to both productive and pejorative effects, it is used to both surveil one’s neighbourhood, instilling fear and mistrust, and to sousveil law enforcement and circumnavigate the NYPD at protests, producing accountability and a sense of safety. Through ethnographic examples, this article further navigates the cultural and local specificities of use, the complex positionalities that are mediated by the app and the consequences this has for those who experience social inclusion and exclusion.

Keywords:  community and inclusivity; lateral surveillance; protests and resistance; racial injustice; sousveillance

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.17645/si.v11i3.6615


© Alice Riddell. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.