By Lily Kunda
Law enforcement is not thrilled that traffic app Waze gives users the ability to warn others about police. The community-based traffic-navigation app allows users to indicate where police may be lurking, as a means to warn other users to avoid traffic stops and tickets. Users can see a pin on the app of general police locations and make the decision to slow down or go the other way.
Police feel the app is not only preventing them from doing their job but also endangering the lives of police officers by allowing users to share police locations and even indicate if officers are “hidden” or “visible,” though most users only use the police locator setting to warn others of speeding traps.
Since it was revealed that the late Ismaaiyl Brinsley, who was responsible for the death of two New York Police officers, was a Waze user, some officers feel the app could be used as a way to find and harm officers.
Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck told NBC Los Angeles, “I am concerned about the safety of law enforcement officers and the community, and the potential for your Waze product to be misused by those with criminal intent,” Beck wrote. “I look forward to opening a dialogue with you as to how Google can prevent the future misuse of the Waze app to track law enforcement officers, thereby avoiding any future deaths or injury.”
There was a screenshot of the police-tracking feature up on Brinsley’s personal Instagram account, and it was captioned “#WazeApp,” but the post has since been removed. There is no real evidence confirming or denying that Brinsley used Waze to find Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu.
Waze denies any criminal intent and says the app does not physically track or stalk police, just gives users a general idea of their location.
“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 spokesman Julie Mossler said.
Waze was founded in 2008 by software designers in Israel and originally called LinQmap. It became such a hit in the Middle East and Asia that Google bought it in 2013 for over $1 billion and turned it into the largest community-based traffic app in the world, with over 12 billion users worldwide.
Waze allows users to edit maps, warn others about traffic and indicate where to find cheap gas. It lets users know if there are friends nearby and can even connect with users’ Facebook profile to coordinate travel plans. It’s an app for the people by the people — for the most part.
According to the Waze website, “In addition to the local communities of drivers using the app, Waze is also home to an active community of online map editors who ensure that the data in their areas is as up-to-date as possible.”
All the user-friendly benefits are what prompted Google to purchase Waze. According to Globes, “Waze has options to report accidents, police presence, speed cameras and blocked roads, all things that Google does not have.” These options make Waze a great alternative to Google Maps.
Police officers are not the only people who do not like Waze, though. L.A. citizens in residential areas have complained that the app has caused much noise and traffic in their usually quiet neighborhoods, according to ABC News.
“The traffic has never been this bad. It’s bumper-to-bumper traffic now in the morning. Cars move at 10 miles an hour,” said Los Angeles resident Paula Hamilton.
Many Waze users took to Twitter to show their disdain for police officers’ wanting the police-spotting feature disabled. “Folks trying to defend #waze don’t get it. Cops are afraid of EVERYTHING, so of course common sense is irrelevant”; “Interesting: double standard or serious threat? #police #waze #tracking #googlewaze”; and “#Police upset that citizenry can now surveil them. And that can mean lower revenues from fines…#waze” are some of the top tweets on Twitter.
Most users feel the police wanting to halt the feature on Waze is less about police safety and more about losing money from speeding tickets and fines.
“I think their concern is being able to catch people who are in violation of traffic violations,” said Jason Seward.
When asked, most users said they use Waze for the navigation feature and not to track police officers. Google has yet to respond to police requests, and the police-spotting feature is still available on the app.