Law enforcement is “concerned” that citizens may try to abide by the law after the team at Google Maps announced the rollout of a new feature that will allow customers to avoid tickets, arrests, or being shot in the face by tracking the real-time location of police officers.
For years, Waze—a GPS-based traffic and navigation app owned by Google—allowed its users to report the location of speed traps, roadblocks, and police checkpoints but the feature was only available in specific cities and on certain Android phones. On Thursday, Google announced that it will migrate the reporting component to the more popular Google Maps app and make the feature available across all platforms, including iOS devices. The app upgrade now allows users to report police locations, along with crashes, slowdowns, construction, lane closures, disabled vehicles, and road debris.
This technological advancement doesn’t sit well with some police officers and law enforcement organizations, who allege that the tool enables illegal activities, encourages drunk driving and makes it easier for killers to ambush police officers. Of course, there is absolutely no evidence that this ever happened, but still…the police said it, so it must be true.
In 2015, the Los Angeles Times wrote that LAPD Police Chief Charlie Beck condemned the Waze app for putting officers in harm’s way. The Sergeants Benevolent Association, a union representing active and retired NYPD sergeants wrote a letter demanding that Google disable the feature or face legal action, alleging that Ismaaiyl Brinsley used the app to locate and kill two officers, an accusation that investigators said was not true.
The National Sheriffs’ Association issued a fact sheet (pdf) condemning the tool, writing:
Our concerns are for officer safety and community safety. Wazers can use this feature to avoid law enforcement or to find law enforcement to carry out possible acts of violence against that officer. We are concerned that terrorists, organized crime groups, and gangs will find this a valuable tool to further their illegal activities.
Our number one concern is officer safety. We agree that if a person is intent on harming an officer they could do it without the app. The question becomes, why put a tool in their hand that aids them in locating law enforcement?
Our second concern is community safety. There is evidence that shows that drunk drivers use the App to avoid law enforcement, meaning they then put public safety at risk by drinking and driving, knowing they can drive an alternate route to miss DUI/DWI checkpoints or an officer on duty.
Traffic stops were the number one source for police-initiated contact according to a 2018 report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. The BJS analysis found that police are more than twice as likely to threaten black citizens or use non-lethal force (including shooting, kicking, punching and pushing) against black people. And when the Stanford Open Policing Project analyzed more than 200 million police stops, they discovered that officers are more likely to stop black drivers, and are more likely to search black drivers during stops but found that cops aren’t any more likely to find contraband on black drivers than white drivers.
Black men are two-and-a-half times more likely to be killed by police use of force. Unarmed black people are two times more likely to be killed by cops, and unarmed, fleeing black people are four times more likely than whites to be killed by cops, according to data from Mapping Police Violence.
As of Oct. 21, two law enforcement officers have been killed this year in ambush-style attacks, according to the FBI.
As of Oct. 24, law enforcement officers have shot and killed 34 unarmed people this year. According to the Washington Post’s “Fatal Force” database, at least 12 of those victims were killed during police-initiated traffic stops.
At least eight were black.