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Anti-crime apps may encourage distrust, racial stereotypes

Despite the fact that crime statistics show a dramatic drop in violent crimes over the past 25 years, many people in West Virginia feel more unsafe than ever before. There are a number of reasons for this phenomenon, including extensive up-to-the-minute social media posts about nationwide criminal activity or sensationalized media coverage. In addition, sometimes the steps that people take in order to feel safer may actually encourage unfounded and unnecessary fears. For example, a number of smartphone apps present themselves as crime-fighting tools that people can use to be more aware of their neighborhoods and potential threats.

However, apps like Citizen, Nextdoor and Ring have come in for criticism. Many say that these types of programs encourage people to believe that they live in an unsafe world, encouraging unfounded fears. In addition, people may be less able to distinguish actual threats of violent crime from innocuous activity. Critics also say that these apps can promote racial stereotyping and beliefs about who "belongs" in a particular neighborhood or community. As a result, it may put residents of color at risk of unnecessary involvement with the criminal justice system.

Citizen, which was originally called Vigilante, encourages users to livestream video of what they consider to be suspicious incidents. Nextdoor hosts a range of bulletin boards where users can highlight suspicious activities. Unfortunately, many of these reports focus on perceptions that people are "lurking" or "casing" in a particular area and often simply reflect people of color going about their daily lives.

When police are called to a situation, innocent people can find themselves facing searches, questioning and further charges. Even a misdemeanor can lead to serious troublesome consequences down the line. People who are being questioned or accused by the police may turn to a criminal defense attorney for representation.

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