Law enforcement concerned with traffic app Waze

Published 10:56 am Wednesday, February 4, 2015

In light of recent attacks on police officers, Waze, the world’s largest community-based traffic and navigation smartphone app, has drawn the ire of several prominent law enforcement agencies across the county. The Associated Press reported that the National Sheriff’s Association is asking Google, which acquired the Israel-based company in 2013, to disable the feature within the app that allows users to share the location of police cars.

The association is “concerned the app will have a negative effect on saving lives and with public safety activities,” said John Thompson, NSA Deputy Executive Director. “The ability for individual or organized crime to track law enforcement puts every community they protect at risk.”

With Waze, information such as road congestion and hazards, accidents, and gas prices can be accessed in real time. However, some law enforcement agencies believe that the ability to share the location of a police car poses a threat to that officer.

Although there are no known connections between the app and any attacks on police, Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck has openly noted that the man who shot and killed two police officers in New York City used the app to monitor police movements in the days leading up to his attack. Beck also sent a letter to Larry Brin, the CEO of Google, asking for the feature to be disabled, which prompted nation-wide discussion about the app.

“It is not always in the public’s best interest to know where police are operating,” Beck said in the letter. “There is a criminal element that are able to ply their trade and ply their craft more effectively by knowing where police are.

“I understand that people may drive better if they know a police officer is around the corner, but the risk outweighs the benefits.”

Local law agencies do not feel as strongly as Beck when it comes to the app, however.

“It could be detrimental to law enforcement if someone wanted to do an officer harm,” said Major Gene H. Drewery of the Southampton County Sheriff’s Office, “but we haven’t experienced any problems here.

“In fact, we want people to know where we are.”

Phil Hardison, chief of Police for the City of Franklin, said that neither he, nor the department, have a problem with Waze, noting that he uses it himself.

He even went on to explain the difference between police radars and the app.

“Radars are illegal because they emit a signal that says exactly where (a police car) is located,” Hardison said. “However, since the app is user-based, there’s no law in Virginia that prohibits it.”

Waze has since released a statement, arguing that the app is welcomed by law enforcement agencies across the country.

“We think very deeply about safety and security and work in partnership with the NYPD and other police and departments of transportation around the world to help municipalities better understand what’s happening in their cities in real-time,” said spokeswoman Julie Mossler. “These relationships keep citizens safe, promote faster emergency response and help alleviate traffic congestion.

“Most users tend to drive more carefully when they believe law enforcement is nearby.”