Truth, Justice and the American Waze

 

A few months back I downloaded a cool traffic app called Waze. At its heart is a basic GPS program like Google Maps, but it adds a social networking layer to provide real-time information to drivers. Unsurprisingly, Google bought the company, so you can expect to see the two apps integrated soon.

Here’s how it works: When I get in my new Maserati (okay, 2001 Toyota… whatever), I open Waze and it shows any traffic events occurring in my area. As I drive, warnings pop up for vehicles on the side of the road, freeway crashes, and delays. If I see a new traffic snag, I can report it through Waze to help other drivers going my way.

The app also tells me if a police car is waiting a half-mile down the road. Unsurprisingly, this last feature has several police organizations upset:

Google-owned Waze, although offering a host of traffic data, doubles as a Digital Age version of the police band radio.

Authorities said the app amounts to a “police stalker” in the aftermath of last month’s point-blank range murder of two New York Police Department officers. That’s according to the message some officials gave over the weekend during the National Sheriffs Association meeting in Washington.

”The police community needs to coordinate an effort to have the owner, Google, act like the responsible corporate citizen they have always been and remove this feature from the application even before any litigation or statutory action,” Sheriff Mike Brown of Bedford County, Virginia, told the gathering, according to an account provided by The Associated Press. Brown, who chairs the National Sheriffs Association’s technology committee, said the app’s police-reporting feature renders it a “police stalker.”

Later in the article, the police admit that the NYPD killer didn’t use Waze to target his victims, but hey, we should ban this feature anyway. While critics use the most extreme and emotional hypothetical to sell their ban, it’s hard not to think this is more about revenue than safety.

The app indicates red-light and speed cameras in addition to manned speed traps, causing Waze users to drive with extra care in those areas. If public safety is the state’s only concern, police should be thrilled at anything that might rein in reckless drivers.

Speaking constitutionally, it’s my right to share public information with fellow drivers, even if it might make government’s job more difficult. I’m unclear why police should be granted an expectation of privacy while the general public is not. Waze is just a high-tech version of telling friends to slow down when driving through Wikieup, Ariz., since their only cop wants to buy a new speedboat.

What do you think, Ricochetti? Do the cops have any case at all here?

There are 39 comments.

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  1. FightinInPhilly Inactive
    FightinInPhilly
    @FightinInPhilly

    I doubt this would be even worthy of a press conference if Google wasn’t the parent company.

    Besides, the idea that a killer would use this is rather stupid since they’d be providing a digital map of their approach and escape by using Waze. And if you think someone would get a disposable smart phone to avoid detection, well- it just ain’t that hard to find a cop. They’re generally pleasantly visible, so as to assist those of us in need.

    With respect to the speed cameras at stop lights- it’s my understanding that a lot of townships and municipalities had real budget problems paying for them because the expected revenue from all those additional tickets failed to materialize after people modified their behavior and stopped trying to beat yellow lights.

    • #1
  2. Ricochet Inactive
    Ricochet
    @LunaticRex

    No, no case at all. Bad guys do bad things. They aren’t looking for specific cops. I mean, one could just buy a ten-dollar Tracfone and call 911. Or walk into a doughnut shop (not even joking). This argument is all about the Benjamins. And state control of we proles, as ever.

    • #2
  3. Pilli Inactive
    Pilli
    @Pilli

    Two thoughts:

    1) The comment by Sheriff Brown is exactly why police are having such a hard time right now. He makes it crystal clear that speed traps aren’t about driver/auto safety but about revenue. It’s an “us against them” mentality.

    A tactic that used to be used (and may still be) in Florida was to park a Highway Patrol or Sheriff’s car in the median of the Interstate and leave it there unmanned. It worked. People slowed down and were also on the lookout for the manned units.

    2) I don’t trust Google. They have played fast and loose with customer data in the past. Knowing where you are in real time is just too enticing for far too many people. Remember, there is no such thing as a free app. Somebody is going to make money from it selling your personal data.

    And you can bet the government will start wanting the data…without a warrant or even a compelling need. This is even scarier.

    • #3
  4. Johnny Dubya Member
    Johnny Dubya
    @JohnnyDubya

    No case. I hope that Sheriff Brown is akin to a White House spokesman, never actually believing his own bull but forced by his superiors to put forth such risible arguments. The alternative is that he’s an idiot.

    Police lying in wait are more “stalkerish” (to use one of my 15-year-old daughter’s favorite words) than are motorists sharing information. If the cops are so shy about disclosing their whereabouts, perhaps they should forgo the black-and-white cars with “POLICE” written across the sides, and the blinding, flashing strobe lights, and all drive unmarked vehicles.

    Traffic tickets are one of the clearest demonstrations of the utter disdain that local and state governments have for their taxpayers. Now, I have lately seen motorists doing some spectacularly dangerous things, for which I dearly hoped they would be arrested and thrown under the jail. But I have also heard stories from friends about being ticketed for such “offenses” as looking at their smartphones at a traffic light. Such petty summonses are often bemoaned by podcaster Adam Carolla, who calls them “chicken**** tickets”.

    • #4
  5. user_86050 Inactive
    user_86050
    @KCMulville

    Jon Gabriel, Ed.:If I see a new traffic snag, I can report it through Waze to help other drivers going my way.

    Yes, except reporting it means that a driver (still in motion) has to pay attention to his smartphone instead of the road.

    Something tells me that these innovations will always be countered by some other innovation. We’re all playing this game, and players will always adjust.

    • #5
  6. Ricochet Inactive
    Ricochet
    @PleatedPantsForever

    JG – I’m against this keeping track of what the government is doing. I mean, the government leaves us alone, right? Doesn’t take any more in taxes than needed, only creates common sense regulations and laws, does not even tell us what products we need to buy…..besides healthcare and a few other things :)

    • #6
  7. Blondie Thatcher
    Blondie
    @Blondie

    This case is just like the one a while back (in Florida, I think) where the guy flashed his lights to alert others about the cop ahead. Wasn’t that thrown out by the courts? I agree with you, Jon. Is it about safety or a revenue stream?

    • #7
  8. Richard O'Shea Coolidge
    Richard O'Shea
    @RichardOShea

    Is there anyone else but me left that still flashes their lights to warn oncoming drivers of speed traps?

    My mother used to refer to this as “a courtesy to other drivers”.

    • #8
  9. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @

    I’m sure the issue the police takes with the app is that it will diminish the number of speeding tickets their officers can give, amounting to a large loss in revenue.

    • #9
  10. Roberto Member
    Roberto
    @Roberto

    Jon Gabriel, Ed.:

    Later in the article, the police admit that the NYPD killer didn’t use Waze to target his victims, but hey, we should ban this feature anyway. While critics use the most extreme and emotional hypothetical to sell their ban, it’s hard not to think this is more about revenue than safety.

    Let us give Sheriff Brown the benefit of the doubt that the safety of his fellow officers is indeed his concern, some recent rather high profile assaults on police officers are not the stuff of fiction.

    However even so that fear does not support his statement. Law enforcement officers are not difficult to find, in fact by and large they are quite visible indeed. Some murderous thug looking to commit such evil hardly needs an app to find a target.

    • #10
  11. Gödel's Ghost Inactive
    Gödel's Ghost
    @GreatGhostofGodel

    Jon Gabriel, Ed.: Do the cops have any case at all here?

    No.

    • #11
  12. Robert Parry Contributor
    Robert Parry
    @RobertCJParry

    If some nut job does use Waze to ambush a cop, will the commenters here-above admit their error and express regret for having been unwilling to do anything to make said nut job’s task more challenging, or will there be a dismissal of it as “an outlier” or “only one dead cop?”

    Most cops I know really don’t like writing traffic tickets. This is why there are constant battles about “quotas” or other structures for tickets in police agencies. Police Departments need to write tickets (both for safety and revenue) and most cops would rather not, save for the most egregious and dangerous of infractions. In my observation, a cop will almost always write a ticket down (e.g. record a speed that was actually slower than the actual offense or write a speeder for a minor mechanical infraction) or just plain give a warning. This isn’t always true — I have known those who took great pride in their reputation for inflexibility — but it is far more common than not. Most cops would rather take a real criminal to jail.

    But, more importantly, this app isn’t just about traffic. For instance, a cop taking a coffee break or sitting in his car writing a report is equally reportable, equally vulnerable but irrelevant to traffic matters. And, telling where cops are also tells criminals where they are not. With a small amount of research, a crook planning a significant heist can figure out how many cops are on duty. He can now know roughly how far away from his objective they are — or how effective his ruse to draw them away has been.

    Aside from saving people money on tickets (which is a conversation worth having in and of itself), the only reason to oppose this idea is a) a desire to skirt traffic laws risk-free b) a desire to do more nefarious things absent interference c) a desire to do nefarious things to the police.

    Which, I think, speaks for itself.

    Put another way: If someone is looking to kill a cop, and his friend calls up and says “a pig is parked at First & Main” and that officer is then killed, the friend would no doubt be an accomplice. We all know there are people out there looking to kill cops. How does this app not make the reporters accomplices if a tragedy occurs?

    • #12
  13. Ontheleftcoast Inactive
    Ontheleftcoast
    @Ontheleftcoast

    There’s real food for thought in a lot of what you say, but I’m not so sure that cop writing a report is irrelevant to the behavior of passing drivers. I know I can’t always tell if she’s doing a report or aiming a radar gun, at least not if I’m paying proper attention to traffic. But I do check my speedometer.

    • #13
  14. Israel P. Inactive
    Israel P.
    @IsraelP

    The people who shoot police probably identify with the BDS movement, so are not allowed to use Waze anyway. It’s a product of you-know-where.

    • #14
  15. Jimmy Carter Member
    Jimmy Carter
    @JimmyCarter

    Robert C. J. Parry: If some nut job does use Waze to ambush a cop, will the commenters here-above admit their error and express regret for having been unwilling to do anything to make said nut job’s task more challenging, or will there be a dismissal of it as “an outlier” or “only one dead cop?”

    Nice try.

    Are We “accomplices” if We don’t support gun restrictions that would “do anything to make said nut job’s task more challenging[?]”

    Way to convict defenders of Freedom for other people’s actions.

    • #15
  16. OkieSailor Member
    OkieSailor
    @OkieSailor

    It’s been over 30 years since I’ve been issued a speeding ticket; I didn’t see a school zone until I was nearly in it, was in an unfamiliar area at the time. I’ve never had the funds to waste on paying fines, so I drive within the margin allowed by the local police (usually 3-5 miles over the limit, but 0 in those school zones!) So I just don’t see why I would need an app to alert me that a police car is watching for speeders. I say, leave five minutes earlier and you won’t be in such a rush.

    BTW, I get amused at those drivers who practically take their life in hand to get around me when I pull up behind them at the next stop light. They don’t realize, I think, what they are doing to their cardiovascular systems in order to gain another 15 feet of advance, not to mention the extra wear and tear on their brakes, etc. End of sermon.

    • #16
  17. Instugator Thatcher
    Instugator
    @Instugator

    Robert C. J. Parry:If some nut job does use Waze to ambush a cop, will the commenters here-above admit their error and express regret for having been unwilling to do anything to make said nut job’s task more challenging, or will there be a dismissal of it as “an outlier” or “only one dead cop?”

    Most cops I know really don’t like writing traffic tickets. This is why there are constant battles about “quotas” or other structures for tickets in police agencies. Police Departments need to write tickets (both for safety and revenue) and most cops would rather not, save for the most egregious and dangerous of infractions. In my observation, a cop will almost always write a ticket down (e.g. record a speed that was actually slower than the actual offense or write a speeder for a minor mechanical infraction) or just plain give a warning. This isn’t always true — I have known those who took great pride in their reputation for inflexibility — but it is far more common than not. Most cops would rather take a real criminal to jail.

    But, more importantly, this app isn’t just about traffic. For instance, a cop taking a coffee break or sitting in his car writing a report is equally reportable, equally vulnerable but irrelevant to traffic matters. And, telling where cops are also tells criminals where they are not. With a small amount of research, a crook planning a significant heist can figure out how many cops are on duty. He can now know roughly how far away from his objective they are — or how effective his ruse to draw them away has been.

    Aside from saving people money on tickets (which is a conversation worth having in and of itself), the only reason to oppose this idea is a) a desire to skirt traffic laws risk-free b) a desire to do more nefarious things absent interference c) a desire to do nefarious things to the police.

    Which, I think, speaks for itself.

    Put another way: If someone is looking to kill a cop, and his friend calls up and says “a pig is parked at First & Main” and that officer is then killed, the friend would no doubt be an accomplice. We all know there are people out there looking to kill cops. How does this app not make the reporters accomplices if a tragedy occurs?

    You don’t make public policy based on the activities of the lone crazy or the “just one child.” – that is beyond stupid.

    • #17
  18. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @

    Jimmy Carter
    Robert C. J. Parry: If some nut job does use Waze to ambush a cop, will the commenters here-above admit their error and express regret for having been unwilling to do anything to make said nut job’s task more challenging, or will there be a dismissal of it as “an outlier” or “only one dead cop?”

    Interesting insight into the mind of a policeman and I’m guessing it’s not atypical. The alternative is to do everything to avoid fatalities to police. Where should the line be drawn? If the argument for saving cops lives trumps everything,we are inches from totalitarianism, but why should a policeman care, he’s safer and will probably get a raise.
    Under the Carter Administration, the speed limit was lowered to 55 (saves lives) Studies show that if it were lowered to 35 , thousands of lives would be saved. If you don’t vote for this Bill you are sending innocent people to their deaths. Should I call this “cop logic”, because that’s what I hear from cops when they weigh in about their safety and protection.

    • #18
  19. Fake John Galt Coolidge
    Fake John Galt
    @FakeJohnJaneGalt

    Waze reports when LEO are actively writing tickets and when they are working accidents or just walking down the road. It seems to me these more likely situations where LEO are outside a vehicle and more vulnerable and thus a little extra driver vigilance is helpful to LEO safety outweighs the remote possibility of this technology being used to hunt down LEOs.

    • #19
  20. Mario the Gator Inactive
    Mario the Gator
    @Pelayo

    This is nothing more than cops whining about Waze messing up their speed traps. I have zero sympathy for the Police in this case. Speeding tickets have become an unofficial tax on citizens. Rarely does the Police pull over someone who is driving recklessly and actually endangering those around them. They need to pay more attention to real cases like burglaries, homicides, narcotics, etc… and stop pretending to Protect and Serve by hiding behind the bushes and catching soccer Moms and Dads who are driving 10mph over the limit in a residential area.

    • #20
  21. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    Jon Gabriel, Ed.: Do the cops have any case at all here?

    No.

    They’re making a claim about a risk that’s never actually occurred. It is however typical of the mindset that’s stripped us of our liberties: any risk, however unlikely, is a sufficient justification to further enserf us.

    I use Waze religiously. I also have a radar detector. I got the detector because I got sick of ‘gotcha’ tickets: getting a ticket because you travel from one speed zone to another, and miss the sign.

    These spots are not generally a safety issue, they’re simply revenue opportunities. If they were really a safety issue they’d do something about it, like put up better signage, not just have a policeman sit their occasionally.

    And to some of the other commenters who say that police don’t like to write tickets: baloney. You might believe this if you’re a policeman, and aren’t subject to getting tickets, but as someone who gets them on occasion police rarely let you off unless there’s some hassle involved in writing the ticket. The recent fuss in NYC makes it perfectly clear that a policeman’s primary job is as roving tax collector.

    “”The art of taxation consists in so plucking the goose as to obtain the largest amount of feathers with the least possible amount of hissing.” — Jean Baptiste Colbert

    Coating taxation with the sugar of “public safety” is the ideal way to reduce the hissing, as most people take the claim at face value, and the only people with the statistics to invalidate the claim are those making the claim.

    Living in the police state known as New York, where every drive involves passing some cop involved in highway robbery, gadgets like Waze are essential in the battle between citizens and oppressors.

    • #21
  22. user_124695 Inactive
    user_124695
    @DavidWilliamson

    I used Waze early on, but stopped using it when Google maps came out – glad they will soon be integrated!

    • #22
  23. jmelvin Member
    jmelvin
    @jmelvin

    My very limited experience with Sheriff Brown and his deputies have been generally favorable and I think he runs an above board operation in Bedford County, but I certainly disagree with him on the idea that police acting in the public and on the dime of the public should be open for tracking by the public. Sheriff Brown seems to be well liked in the general community, but he is definitely one of these type of sheriffs who likes to make a big deal about his latest drug raid or some other miscellaneous bust and ensures that he gets his stars all shiny for the local show.

    One thing to keep in mind here is that the sheriff (and all Virginia law enforcement) are used to getting away with motorists not having a legal electronic means of being alerted to the presence of police on the roadways as radar detectors are illegal to use in Virginia. (Virginia is the last state to have this restriction from what I understand.) Fortunately there are applications like Waze, or even Facebook that allow for folks to at least notify their friends where speed traps and DUI checkpoints are set up to fleece those who are out and about. In my experience with Bedford County though, the police and sheriffs don’t seem to be too petty with their speed enforcement provided one is not being excessive or reckless in their driving, but they sure put on a show when they do “lay down the law.”

    • #23
  24. user_348375 Inactive
    user_348375
    @TrinityWaters

    I live in a relatively small town, and our local Gestapo are infamous for speed traps. The have cameras, radar, lidar, lasers, and stealth-painted cruisers. Don’t remember a bond issue for all the extra hardware. Whatever tools we citizens can get our hands on to help protect ourselves from legal robbery is fine with me! I installed security cameras at home not to film the local gang gentry, but to watch out for the police.

    • #24
  25. Robert Parry Contributor
    Robert Parry
    @RobertCJParry

    This is nothing more than cops whining about Waze messing up their speed traps.

    Then what benefit is there to being able to report the locations of police far from major thoroughfares? In fact, what purpose does that ability serve other than to identify the location of law enforcement specifically to avoid them or target them?

    I have zero sympathy for the Police in this case.

    As in most cases.

     Rarely does the Police pull over someone who is driving recklessly and actually endangering those around them.

    And you know this from what evidence and observation?

    I have been the recipient of a totally absurd ticket — doing 70 on the 405 Freeway in Orange County as 11 in the morning. As a cop friend said “A ticket? You should have got a medal.

    • #25
  26. Johnny Dubya Member
    Johnny Dubya
    @JohnnyDubya

    Robert C.J. Parry: “Put another way: If someone is looking to kill a cop, and his friend calls up and says ‘a pig is parked at First & Main’ and that officer is then killed, the friend would no doubt be an accomplice. We all know there are people out there looking to kill cops. How does this app not make the reporters accomplices if a tragedy occurs?”

    Gee, I don’t know. Maybe because in the first case, the “friend” is an actual accomplice (assuming he knows what the killer is up to), and in the second case a “reporter” is not. There is a difference between saying (a) “I know you want to kill a policeman, and here is one you can kill,” and (b) “Here is where a police car is located on the roadway, so you can take whatever precautions you deem necessary.”

    Imagine a telephone conversation where a “friend” innocently says, “Watch out when you drive downtown, because there’s a speed trap at First & Main,” and then the receiver of this information goes and kills the cop. Should the “friend” be prosecuted as an accomplice? Perhaps you would like to criminalize all speech that entails identifying the locations of police officers?

    • #26
  27. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    Robert C. J. Parry: In fact, what purpose does that ability serve other than to identify the location of law enforcement specifically to avoid them or target them?

    Why does it have to have a purpose? Are we at the point where everything must be acceptable to the authorities to be legal?

    And your inclusion of “target” is complete hyperbole, as there’s no evidence that Waze offers any more opportunity to do this than the cell phone. In fact, it would be far more efficient to call a co-conspirator than to post the location on Waze and hope someone else comes along and attacks the cop.

    • #27
  28. Wylee Coyote Member
    Wylee Coyote
    @WyleeCoyote

    I think a great many on Ricochet would be quite surprised to learn how much residential traffic enforcement is driven by community demands. This is one of the many little-known truths about police work: most people don’t hate traffic tickets, so long as they happen to other people. It’s not uncommon for us to hear these requests at roll call.

    I once had to pinch-hit for my absent Sergeant at a neighborhood advisory board. I talked a little bit about actual crime. Because I was a half-prepared last minute substitute, they had some pity on me, and used a slightly gentler hand as they raked me over the coals about traffic, particularly construction and delivery trucks, speeding through their neighborhood.

    So for every motorist complaining about bogus stop sign tickets, there’s a resident watching people blow through the stop sign where her children cross and fuming that the police do nothing about it. So, many of those soccer moms and dads getting speeding tickets in residential areas are getting them at the behest of other soccer moms and dads.

    Must make for lively conversation at the PTA mixers. :)

    • #28
  29. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    Wylee Coyote:I think a great many on Ricochet would be quite surprised to learn how much residential traffic enforcement is driven by community demands.

    The PD Chief in my town grew up and still lives in town. I think this gives him a unique perspective.

    He’s warned residents that they risk making their neighbors into enemies by asking for speed traps on their roads, and he displays a commendable reluctance to adopt the over-the-top enforcement regimes which are often called for by other townspeople.

    Of course I live in a state where speed limits are virtually never enforced but for those who travel 10-15 miles over the limits.

    I’m pretty sure the limits were set back when cars had wooden components in their brakes, and risk of fire was a real concern while slowing down.

    But that said, the speed limits are an excellent guide during snow-storms.

    • #29
  30. Jon Gabriel, Ed. Admin
    Jon Gabriel, Ed.
    @jon

    Robert C. J. Parry:

    This app might result in officers bearing some infinitesimal increase in risk, but constitutionally, I don’t see any case they might have. If any of us are out in public, we have zero expectation of privacy. Waze is providing public information.

    If raising the danger to police by 0.00002% results in a Waze ban, all guns and knives would be taken away, along with cars themselves. Also, Waze does not track officers, but roadways; most of the times a cop is reported, he is helping a stranded motorist or at the scene of an accident. At least in my area, police usually drive with traffic on the freeways instead of lying in wait under a bridge.

    • #30

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