Police versus Waze

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Over fifty million users have downloaded Waze.  Waze is a crowdsourcing traffic app that relies on user inputs to tell other users where there are traffic problems such as accidents.  The reporting function of Waze also includes the ability to alert other drivers about speed traps and the location of police.  It’s this reporting capability that has some law enforcement agencies concerned about officer safety.

Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck sent a letter to Google, which acquired Waze in 2013 about the potential of the traffic app to be used to “stalk” law enforcement officials.  The letter, dated December 30 , 2014, pointed out that Ismaiiyl Brinsley, who killed New York Police Department Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu on December 20, 2014, used the app to monitor police movements.  In the days before the shooting, Brinsley posted a screenshot of the Waze app showing police locations on Instagram although one of the commentator on the post pointed out that the locations were not real time.

Earlier this month, the National Sheriffs Association 2015 Winter Conference, Sheriff Mike Brown of Bedford County, Virginia, who serves as the chairperson for the association’s technology committee also called on Google to remove the function stating, “The police community needs to coordinate an effort to have the owner, Google, act like the responsible corporate citizen they have always been and remove this feature from the application even before any litigation or statutory action.”

While Google doesn’t import Waze’s police tracking data as part of its Google Maps traffic integration, it seems that the initial response by the company is to continue with the status quo.  According to a quote in the LA Times, Waze spokeswoman Julie Mossler maintains that the police data in Waze is beneficial: “We think very deeply about safety and security and work in partnership with the NYPD and other police and departments of transportation all over the world … to help municipalities better understand what’s happening in their cities in real time. These relationships keep citizens safe, promote faster emergency response and help alleviate traffic congestion,” Mossler said. “Police partners support Waze and its features, including reports of police presence, because most users tend to drive more carefully when they believe law enforcement is nearby.”

Waze's traffic data includes the option of reporting the location of nearby police.
Waze’s traffic data includes the option of reporting the location of nearby police.

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