Many people in Wisconsin have downloaded one or more of the smartphone apps that purport to help prevent crime. Apps like Citizen, Nextdoor or Ring may offer a sense of improved safety for many users. However, critics warn that these apps do little to nothing to affect crime but could increase racial stereotyping and neighborhood distrust. In the past 25 years, crime has gone down dramatically across the United States. Still, many people feel at greater risk despite the statistics.

Some attribute this growing fear of crime despite improved safety to media coverage of major crimes, which can be sensationalized. Others point to apps like these as encouraging an environment of unnecessary fear. One app, Citizen, encourages users to turn on its GPS location capabilities by presenting a fake alert for a nearby shooting. However, when users scroll down, they see that this is only a prompt encouraging them to give the app greater access to their personal data, not an actual alert for their area.

Other apps like Nextdoor may also provide a space for neighborhood communication about a range of worries, from improper parking to weather problems. The focus on crime, however, can often become an inducement for people to begin reporting on the presence of others that they feel do not belong in the neighborhood, accusing them of casing the area or lurking. In many cases, the subjects of these discussions may be people of color going about their business.

Racial discrimination is not only a problem in neighborhood crime apps, of course; it continues to be a serious problem in the criminal justice system. Bias and discrimination are some of the reasons why people being questioned by police or accused of a crime may want to consult with a criminal defense attorney to present a strong defense.