US sheriffs expand concerns about Waze mobile traffic app - KCTV5

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US sheriffs expand concerns about Waze mobile traffic app

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Not only does a feature of a popular Google Inc. mobile app put police officers' lives in danger, it also interferes with law enforcement's ability to carry out its speeding ticket mission, a leading group of sheriffs said Wednesday. Not only does a feature of a popular Google Inc. mobile app put police officers' lives in danger, it also interferes with law enforcement's ability to carry out its speeding ticket mission, a leading group of sheriffs said Wednesday.
JOHNSON COUNTY, KS (KCTV/AP) -

Not only does a feature of a popular Google Inc. mobile app put police officers' lives in danger, it also interferes with law enforcement's ability to carry out its speeding ticket mission, a leading group of sheriffs said Wednesday.

The National Sheriffs' Association had previously focused its campaign against Waze on police safety after the fatal shootings of two New York police officers in December. Ismaaiyl Brinsley reportedly used the app to track down, shoot and kill officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu.

It broadened its campaign with a new statement criticizing Google's software as hampering the use of speed traps. The trade association said radar guns and other speed enforcement techniques have reduced highways deaths.

"This app will hamper those activities by locating law enforcement officers and puts the public at risk," the group said.

The NSA has reached out to Google to ask the company behind the app to remove the police alert function.

In the Waze app, which operates like a free GPS navigation tool, users can tag the locations of parked police vehicles, accidents, congestion, traffic cameras, potholes and more, so that other drivers using Waze are warned as they approach the same location. It's being used by 50 million people across the country.

“I think any and all apps like this are all concerning and should be concerning to all police officers," Johnson County Sheriff Frank Denning said.

Denning said the option to point out the location of officers is not only concerning to him, but also those at the NSA.

“If you are... such a person wanting to do harm to police officer that could give indication of where that person is," he said.

In a twist, the newly expressed concern about speeding is also Google's own defense of its software.

"Most users tend to drive more carefully when they believe law enforcement is nearby," Waze spokeswoman Julie Mossler said.

Waze actually gained popularity in the last week since The Associated Press first disclosed law enforcement's concerns, climbing four positions to No. 8 on Apple's ranking of the top free mobile apps.

Some drivers say it helps avoid speed traps and tickets, but Denning says it's dangerous letting the people know where police might be.

“Obviously we are always concerned about the safety of our personnel, so that's paramount," he said.

The Los Angeles Police chief and the executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police have echoed the sheriffs' concerns about police safety but have not said anything about the app interfering with catching speeders.

Sen. Charles Schumer, a Democrat, who in 2011 raised issues with mobile apps that identified drunken driving checkpoints, is concerned about the Waze app police-reporting feature, according to his office.

Other major police trade groups had not yet formally joined the sheriffs' campaign. Some police departments near San Francisco, where Google is headquartered, did not share the same concerns.

Heather Randol, a spokeswoman for the San Jose Police Department, said the department does not have much information about the software's impact.

"However, part of our police model includes a highly visible police presence to reduce crime," Randol said.

Waze users mark locations of police vehicles — which are generally stopped in public spaces — on maps without much distinction other than "visible" or "hidden." Users driving nearby see a police icon, but it's not immediately clear whether police are there for a speed trap, a sobriety check or a lunch break.

Rey Hoover, a supporter of the app, said he can understand why police are concerned, but isn't convinced it will be enough to quiet the public wanting the instant information.

“I can see both sides. I can see why some would be upset and I can definitely see why some would want to know where the speed traps are," she said.

Some say it's just one more thing to distract drivers attention, and they believe those wanting the app are likely those looking to speed.

“People that are arguing that they want to know where speed traps are and all that stuff, the only reason they want that is so they can stop breaking the law before they get to where the law is," driver Jeff Hawkins said.

Police objections to Waze add new complexity to the debate about technology and privacy. Some Waze supporters lashed out at outspoken sheriffs on social media, pointing to the irony of police concerns about being watched amid sensational disclosures about police and government surveillance of citizens.

Sheriff Mike Brown of Bedford County, VA, said states might pass laws to prevent people from revealing the locations of parked police cruisers. Privacy advocates, however, said First Amendment protections will stand in the way.

"Waze represents person-to person information in the public square," said Nuala O'Connor, head of the Center for Democracy and Technology, a Washington civil liberties group, who said she uses the software. "And that's long been a U.S. right under the Constitution."

There are no known connections between any violent attack on police and the Waze software. But Brown and others believe it is only a matter of time.

Copyright 2015 KCTV (Meredith Corp.) and The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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