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Columns : The Federal Voice

Waze'd and Confused

A new traffic and navigation app for mobile devices presents a great threat to law enforcement officers.

July 16, 2015  |  by Jon Adler

Thanks to the patriots at Google Inc., Apple, and Microsoft, terrorists and cop killers can now use Waze, a community-based traffic and navigation app from Waze Mobile, to target the locations of officers in police vehicles.

The Waze app advises motorists as to the specific location of a law enforcement vehicle monitoring highway traffic. In most instances, an officer monitoring traffic is alone in a police radio car, in a static position, and vulnerable to an ambush. In other words, a "cop in a barrel."

Why are companies like Google offering the Waze app through their online app stores, without any regard for officer safety? It's hard to get a straight answer.

Despite repeated requests from the National Sheriff's Association (NSA) for a meeting with Google, the giant high-tech company has not responded. In support of the NSA and all federal, state, and local police, the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA) also sent a letter to Google's CEO Larry Page, addressing the officer safety concerns. At presstime it had been met with total silence.

A representative from Waze Mobile attempted to defend the company's app and stated in a June 5 Washington Times article, "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." Now let's all open the dictionary and look up the word "delusional," and we'll see her statement.

If you view the home page of Waze's Website (www.waze.com), you will see the true intentions of the Waze app. A statement on the site reads: "Imagine millions of drivers out on the roads, working together toward a common goal: to outsmart traffic and get everyone the best route to work and back. Get alerted before you approach police, accidents, road hazards, or traffic jams." So their goal, in effect, is to "outsmart traffic," by alerting motorists in advance of approaching police. What does the Waze representative think reckless drivers will do once they pass the police vehicle? Have a reckoning and drive safely?

I understand the value of sharing information regarding traffic jams, accidents, and construction, but using an app to identify the precise location of a law enforcement vehicle is potentially perilous for police officers. In an attempt to proffer a compromise, FLEOA suggested that Waze expand the location coverage to a more-than-five-mile radius. This would prevent terrorists from pinpointing the exact location of a police radio car for an ambush and would cause motorists to slow down for a greater distance. Unfortunately, Waze has not responded.

As NSA Executive Director Jonathan Thompson stated in his letter to Google, ambushes were the number one cause of officer felonious fatalities in 2014. The Waze app presents a real officer safety concern for us, and terrorists are rational opportunists when it comes to attacking law enforcement. They could attack a static vehicle position from multiple angles, using either a ruse or brute force. Does Waze's purported goal of "outsmarting traffic" outweigh the safety of officers?

As the NSA says, ambushes are a huge threat to officers. Massachusetts Institute of Technology officer Sean Collier was ambushed in his police vehicle after the Boston Marathon bombing. NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos were ambushed while parked in a department radio car. And we recently learned that a suspected terrorist that the Boston PD stopped was planning to decapitate law enforcement officers. In New York, the Joint Terrorism Task Force arrested two terrorist suspects, one of whom was actively planning to attack law enforcement officers.

Do Waze and the tech giants like Apple that offer the Waze app to the public think helping some reckless driver avoid a speeding ticket is worth more than the safety of officers vulnerable to an ambush?

Supporters of the Waze app may argue that it's law enforcement's job to be visible, and a known police presence empowers community safety. This position is faulty when viewed naively out of context. Law enforcement visibility is achieved best through mobile vehicle and foot patrols that keep communities and officers safe.

The Waze app only serves to empower reckless drivers and people who would surprise and attack officers. The law enforcement community cannot condone an app that creates a "cop in a barrel" who can be easily attacked by cop killers and terrorists.


Comments (8)

Displaying 1 - 8 of 8

Nick @ 7/22/2015 3:25 AM

Mr. Alder, I find your article smacks of irrational fear. Love it, or hate it, we now live in a technological revolution and we, as Law Enforcement Officers must to learn to adapt to the changes in technology in the hands of the public. It is no secret that LEO’s are being targeted more than ever, but let us remember what we are protecting. When we are performing our duties, in view of the public, there is no expectation of privacy and the public has the constitutional right to share that information. Technology has made it easier for the public to share that information, and we must adapt our tactics and officer safety awareness to meet the information age. I’ve served in the same agency you once worked for, so I know you, like me, swore to uphold the Constitution of the United States when I became an LEO. I don’t support efforts to constrain the Constitution because the industry doesn’t want to adapt to the changing times.

Mark @ 7/22/2015 7:00 AM

I agree with Nick. As police officers are we supposed to hide and lurk from the public. The majority of ambushes I've seen on police has been at Stations and popular stops. We are public figures and must be public. I think most of the fear and complaints of Waze or other crowd-sourcing apps is it will prevent depts from issuing traffic citations. But my position is if the public sees are presence and they comply with the law, isn't that a win-win? We've got to combat us vs them mentality that is hammered into impressionable officers who then go out and over-react and then splayed on you tube. My 2 cents.

Dan @ 8/1/2015 12:21 PM

LEOs should not have to lurk in the shadows. The massive expansion of people globally caused the need for resources to patrol larger communities. The days of a foot patrol are gone. Unless the people we serve are willing to pay more taxes so agencies can triple their staff, there will continue to be less LEOs o the street, patrolling larger beats. As for the public knowing our locations, thus"behaving", is hog-wash. Today's youth is being taught to question authority and ask "why", instead of respecting requests and doing what they are lawfully ordered to do, then walking away. This app will allow criminals to avoid us and commit crimes on the opposite side of town from where we are. Those wanting to cause us harm will have a targeted source to set up an attack. They can look at Google Earth for approach avenues, cover and concealment spots, just like what a LEO would do to take down a criminal. There are better ways to avoid traffic accidents than this. Stay safe my brothers

Kojack58 @ 8/2/2015 9:45 AM

Turn it over to the FCC and ask them to indict them for failure to comply with the law about providing information to criminals about police operations. Sounds good to me.

Jon Retired LEO @ 8/2/2015 7:07 PM

Mr. Adler I understand and appreciate your concern. This is why the Sheriff that I worked for changed policy and had us go to the Squadroom to do reports instead of sitting anywhere in the car. Realizing that there are times when you have to be there, good vigilance is your best friend. We only stopped for a break when there was another unit to stop with otherwise we went 10-6 at the department.

Joe @ 8/2/2015 8:33 PM

Do what I do, I drop bread crumbs of my police car all over town so people think there are a lot more of us and it screws people up thinking that police are all over and they are not.....I have other members of my shift also doing it.
When in Rome........

Alvin B. @ 8/8/2015 10:38 PM

Joe, that smacks of the kind of dishonesty that has built distrust of the police into the public. You are are there to ensure traffic safety - not to "trick" people so you can hand out more tickets.

No @ 10/5/2015 7:06 PM

@Joe you can mark breadcrumbs all you want, it only takes one person to nullify your false claim and eventually such stats will get you banned from Waze. Sorry but to you and all your staff, it doesn't work. You aren't going to beat social media.

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