Is the smartphone app “Waze” a benefit or a detriment to consumers and law enforcement?

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I had never heard of this smartphone app “Waze” until I saw news article after news article pertaining to the controversy of whether or not this app is helpful or harmful to consumers and law enforcement.

You might ask what is Waze?  It is a smartphone app used mainly for navigation. Waze remembers users’ commonly used routes and tells users what traffic events will be encountered on any route. The information is user-generated. If the app is running, it automatically detects speed. Users can also report incidents as they see them using a hands-free feature if they have an iPhone and are driving or by typing them in if they are passengers or pedestrians. Passengers can also post pictures of incidents or report where police officers are located.

According to the JSO, being able to report where police are is something that’s very concerning.  As Melissa Bujeda, spokesperson for the JSO, told First Coast News – “Right away we saw it and we said we have a concern about it. In today’s society, there’s people trying to hurt police,” she said.  She went on to say this is why any departments, even the National Sheriff’s Association want Google, the owner of the app, to shut it down.  “It’s just basically being served up on a platter, you want to find an officer, here you go – go here,” said Bujeda.  Bujeda’s concerns are echoed by the LA police chief.  He came out recently criticizing Waze, claiming it jeopardizes police officers’ lives.  His evidence? The man who recently killed two cops in New York had used the Waze app at some point before the shooting. The shooter, Ismaaiyl Brinsley had posted screenshots of it on his since-deleted Instagram page.  In a Dec. 30 letter, LAPD Police Chief Charlie Beck cited last month’s killings and told Google CEO Larry Page, “Your company’s ‘Waze’ app… poses a danger to the lives of police officers in the United States.”

Waze answered back and said that it actually operates with support from law enforcement.  “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,” Waze spokeswoman Julie Mossler said in a statement.

At the heart of the issue, though, is a question America is wrestling with today: To what extent can the public monitor the police?  There’s an increased pressure for police monitoring, given the recent unprosecuted incidents of police violence.  But it’s not always accurate. Waze is based on user-submitted data, which is often old and sometimes unverified. If a police car is on the move, that data is useless seconds later. That’s why Waze isn’t the dangerous cop-tracking tool it’s made out to be.  And even if it is accurate, Waze founder Mueller thinks people have every reason to share police locations on Waze.  “They’re in clearly marked cars,” Mueller said. “They’re public officials conducting a public duty in a public space. There’s no expectation of privacy.”To that extent, Waze is little different from the old trick of flashing your headlights to warn oncoming drivers of a police car. Or the niche hobby of listening to publicly-broadcast police radio traffic.

Consumers say those concerns are a little over reactive.  One local found the concerns a little much.  Bujeda admits the odds are low, but says it’s a chance JSO doesn’t want to take.  “It only takes one time for an officer to be killed, and we don’t want that one time to come,” she says.  Buejda says JSO has also disabled their Calls for Service Page over those same concerns. That website showed where police officers were responding across the city.

Now what is interesting is that some news outlets are teaming up with Waze to help consumers in the Northeast Florida area be aware of where there are traffic accidents and traffic snarls.  This past December, Channel 4 teamed up with Waze.  “I’m really excited about this app because it will help me report back to viewers with what’s going on out on the roadways,” said WJXT traffic reporter Ashley Mitchem. “The app is free and this is exclusive — no one else in our area does this.”  To be a part of Channel 4 Waze community, join the group called “WJXT Timesaver Wazers.” Simply search “WJXT Timesaver Wazer” and click the ‘plus’ sign within the app. Channel 4 will be using Wazers’ information during traffic reports on The Morning Show.

Whatever your position is on the matter, make sure to slow down, be safe and be aware.

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