You learn something new every day. I was just reading an editorial at CNN written by Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. and Jonathan Thompson which involves the public use of a Google owned app which may be placing law enforcement officers in danger. (I should note that I’ve been following David Clarke on Twitter for a while now. He is an active advocate for police officers and is heavily involved in the current debate over anti-cop sentiments around the country.) They’re talking about an app named Waze which was ostensibly developed to help users navigate and avoid traffic jams, find the fastest routes while driving and generally crowdsource the job of traffic management. But one feature in particular allows people to report the location of police officers, and that, the authors say, is causing problems.
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.
Google’s popular real-time traffic app, Waze, uses GPS navigation and crowdsourcing to alert users to traffic jams, automobile accidents, stalled cars, and through its “traffic cop” feature, the presence of law enforcement…
In the days before he assassinated New York police officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu at point blank range while they sat in their patrol car last December, Ismaaiyl Brinsley is known to have used the Waze application to monitor the movements of police officers. The killer identified the location of police on his own Waze account and even posted screen captures to Instagram.
It will shock virtually nobody to learn that I wasn’t even aware of the existence of Waze. (I’m not really a smart phone app kind of guy beyond using it to check Twitter and my e-mail.) But I can see how savvy users might find this to be a great tool to skip around accidents and traffic jams. The usage of the app becomes a little more dubious, as the authors point out, when it’s used to highlight DWI spot check locations and other police activity. But when criminals are actively using it to search out the location of cops when plotting an ambush, such as with Ismaaiyl Brinsley, then it’s downright alarming.
But as soon as begin to think about a possible solution to the problem being described, it becomes a bit more cloudy. Should we ban citizens from knowing the location of the police just to avoid the evil actions of a few criminals? That starts to border on the territory of establishing rules saying that you can’t film cops on the street with your phone. I’m reminded of the situation with CB radios many decades ago when cops were going after drivers who broadcast the location of patrol cars with radar guns when they passed them. (That’s a situation that wound up in court many times.) It cuts down on the speeding tickets they can issue, but it also makes people slow down.
I can sympathize with the authors and their concern over this app being used to stalk and assassinate law enforcement officers. We don’t need to make the job of criminals easier. But is shutting down an app such as Waze – or removing some of its functionality – the answer? Somehow I don’t think that’s the sort of challenge which would hold up in court, and I doubt Google is going to do it on their own.