Popular Driving App Waze Might Have A Very Powerful New Enemy

January 28th 2015

ATTN: Staff

You know the function on Waze that lets you report when there is a police officer near you and users can see that location on the map?

The chief of the Los Angeles Police Department has asked Google -- which owns the navigation app -- to disable the police reporting feature, explaining it can be "misused by those with criminal intent to endanger police officers and the community." (You can read the full letter here).

Waze disagrees, saying that tagging police actually makes us safer. The company says it has support from police departments, such as the New York Police Department.

"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," a company spokesperson told the Los Angeles Times.

Waze doubles as a GPS-guided navigation app and a social network, allowing users to report construction, traffic, or hazards as well as police locations. This controversy exists at least in part due to the discovery that the murderer of two police officers in New York City last year posted a screenshot of nearby police to an Instagram page. Charlie Beck, the Los Angeles police chief, mentioned this incident in his letter to Google.

According to the company, the purpose of the police reporting function is to remind drivers to behave safely when police are nearby as well as help people find a police officer if they are in trouble. And in the midst of a national debate over police accountability and mandatory body cameras, Waze's police reporting function raises yet another question about the public's access to police transparency.

This is not the first time Waze has run into controversy. Last year, some residents in Los Angeles' affluent West Side neighborhoods complained that the app was directing drivers to their quiet side streets. Some residents attempted to stop this practice by sharing false traffic reports on Waze in order to trick the app into sending drivers away from their streets. Waze said, however, that false traffic reports will not affect the app's performance.