Police Still Claiming Google Is Helping Cop Killers with Its Waze App

Josh WolfordTechnology

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Police are still really pissed about Waze.

The Google-owned traffic app uses crowdsourced data to let drivers know about upcoming accidents, road closures, weather conditions, construction zones, and more. The app also contains a feature that allows users to pinpoint the location of police on a map – and it's that feature that's causing tension between Google and law enforcement.

And police are using strong language, saying that Google is literally endangering the lives of police.

Wisconsin Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr and National Sheriffs' Association CEO Jonathan Thompson penned an op-ed published on CNN.com, calling on Google to rethink its stance on the police-tracking features inside Waze.

"For the fifth year in a row in 2014, ambush attacks on police officers were the No. 1 cause of felonious deaths of law enforcement officers in the line of duty. Nevertheless, Google continues to market a smartphone application that lets lawbreakers pinpoint the location of police officers in the field. Google's executives won't even discuss the subject with organizations representing law enforcement," they write.

"t takes just a couple of clicks on Waze's 'traffic cop' icon to identify their locations and indicate whether -- in the opinion of the anonymous user -- the officer is 'visible' or 'invisible.' At that moment, the officer or deputy becomes an identifiable target whose whereabouts are available to any one of Waze's 50 million users worldwide."

Clarke and Thompson deploy the recent murder of New York police officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu to aid their argument. In that specific instance, cop-killer Ismaaiyl Binsley just so happened to post a screenshot of Waze on Instagram a few weeks before he shot two NYPD officers as they sat in their car.

But there’s no indication that Brinsley actually used Waze in the commission of the crime, and there have been no reported instances of Waze factoring into a crime against police. Even the Slate article linked to in their op-ed says this:

The shooter, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, does not seem to have used Waze to locate the two officers he killed (because he was not carrying his smartphone for a few hours prior to his attack), but he did use the Waze police-tracking function in December and even posted screencaps of it to his Instagram.

It was this incident, however, that put Google and Waze on many police organizations' bad side.

“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,” said Sheriff Mike Brown of Bedford County, Virginia, one of the early LEOs to speak out against Waze.

But many feel that police are being disingenuous when they speak about concern for police safety.

And you can't blame them, especially when the National Sheriffs' Association admitted that it's anger over Waze is kind of about speeding tickets.

"While officer safety is paramount and our major concern, we are also concerned this 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! If the bad guy knows where law enforcement is all the time, it makes it much easier for them to carry out their illegal activities," said the NSA in January.

"Highway deaths claim more than 30,000 lives each year. The use of radar and other speed reducing activities have helped make a substantial reduction in these numbers. This app will hamper those activities by locating law enforcement officers and puts the public at risk."

What Clarke, Thompson, and other law enforcement officials are calling for is for Google to simply remove the functionality from the Waze app. Of course, if Google were to comply who's to say there wouldn't be other apps – with the same functionality – either created or propagated.

Police are arguing against citizens knowing where they are. That's all Waze does. It allows nothing but basic location information. There was an officer spotted at x on the map.

Between police scanners, Twitter, TV and radio reports, and simply dialing 911 and reporting a situation – people have plenty of ways to not only find the location of police, but potentially draw them to a certain location. If someone wants to ambush an officer, do they really need Waze?

"In 2013, 10,076 people were killed in alcohol-related automobile accidents. And in 2011, 9,944 people lost their lives in speed-related fatal crashes. Is the highest, best use of Google's geo-mapping and crowdsourcing capabilities to help drunk drivers avoid checkpoints and give speeders assistance in evading speed limits?" says Clarke and Thompson.

Evading speed limits? I don't know about you, but if I know a police officer is parked around the corner I'm likely to be on my best behavior. Maybe evading speed traps is more like it.

Josh Wolford

Josh Wolford is a writer for WebProNews. He likes beer, Japanese food, and movies that make him feel weird afterward. Mostly beer.

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