LAPD’s Police Chief Charlie Beck criticized Waze, a community-based traffic and navigation app owned by Google, for endangering police officers’ lives in a letter he wrote to Google’s CEO Larry Page.
The social mobile app that boasts 50 million users worldwide, allows users to share traffic updates, accidents and other road related information with other users. But the feature that has Waze on Beck’s and other law enforcement officers’ crosshairs, is the cop tracker feature that allows users to report “police traps,” or the locations where they have spotted police patrol cars to tip other drivers.
Though most people use the feature mostly to avoid speeding tickets, Beck’s concerned about the potential for people with “criminal intent” to use the tracker to either evade or harm police officers.
In late December, Beck wrote a letter to Google’s CEO Larry Page asking him to disable the cop locator feature on the app because he believes it puts his officer’s lives in danger.
The letter was released publicly this week and published by the LA Times.
Beck mentions in the letter that Ismaaiyl Brinsley, the alleged suspect in the fatal shootings of New York police officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu in December, used the app to locate the officers before targeting them.
But according to NPR, officials have not direclty linked Waze to the crime.
The National Sheriffs’ Association has also asked to meet with Google about this matter.
In response to the controversy, Waze’s spokeswoman Julie Mossler released this statement:
“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. 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.”
Does Google have a real dilemma here? Not really.
Most people use the cop locator feature on the app to avoid a speeding ticket, not to cause harm to police officers.
Can the feature be used by lawbreakers to help them break the law? Sure.
So can airplanes, drones, computers, the internet, pseudoephedrine, etc.
Should we get started on those letters?
Plus, the police tracker feature is not an electronic locator. The information is manually entered on the app by users.
Police officers are public officials that perform their jobs in public and are usually given away by their marked patrol cars and uniforms. Google can’t stop people from sharing where and when they saw a police officer.
Finally, a police patrol car on the move is pretty hard to pinpoint. Thus, the tracker information found on Waze easily become obsolete within seconds.
Google should answer Beck’s letter and even meet with the chief and members of the National Sheriffs’ Association to acknowledge their concerns for the safety of our law enforcement officers, which is a concern shared by the vast majority of citizens in this country.
But ultimately, Google can’t stop people from sharing information and it’s not Google’s job to stop criminals from using apps and publicly shared information to commit crimes.