Search giant Google Inc. again finds itself at odds with the nation’s law enforcement community, rebuffing requests to modify a GPS-based navigation software that the police say can be used by criminals to track the location of officers and attack them.
At issue is a software application known as Waze, which allows motorists to pinpoint the location of police so that they can avoid speed traps. But the controversial application poses a danger to police officers and Google should decrease the software’s level of precision so that officers are less easy to detect, according to a letter sent to Google CEO Larry Page from Jon Adler, president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association.
“If everyone can track law enforcement officers and their location is predictable, the officers’ effectiveness is compromised, plus the criminal or violator will know how to evade the police using the information provided by the app,” Mr. Adler wrote.
Jonathan Thompson, the executive director of the National Sheriffs’ Association, echoed Mr. Adler’s concerns in his own letter to Mr. Page.
“There are people who would like nothing more than to harm a law enforcement officer,” the sheriffs’ group letter says. “In 2014, for the fifth year in a row, ambush attacks on police officers were the No. 1 cause of felonious deaths of law enforcement officers in the line of duty. The Waze app only makes it easier for those who wish to commit a violent act to do so.”
Google in its motto famously promises to “do no evil,” but the Waze dispute shows how the search company’s own massive success draws it repeatedly into conflict with law enforcement, privacy groups national security agencies.
Google did not respond to multiple inquiries by The Washington Times on the Waze software application or the charges that the company has been ignoring and dismissing the concerns of safety advocates.
But Julie Mossler, head of global communications for Waze, defended the software to The Times in a June 5 email.
The software focuses on safety and security in partnership with police and departments of transportation “all over the world,” she said. Additionally, sharing information on street closures and other road-related incidents helps “municipalities better understand what’s happening in their cities in real time” and alleviates traffic congestion, Ms. Mossler said.
“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,” she said.
Heads of law enforcement and safety organizations say that they began making formal requests to Google after trying and failing to arrange meetings with company officials. The National Sheriffs’ Association said that it has made numerous calls and sent several emails requesting to meet with Google staff since January 2015.
“They won’t even talk to us,” said Mr. Thompson. “We’ve worked through several organizations trying to set up a meeting, but they never worked out. We had a meeting scheduled and the evening before, they canceled the meeting. How can we get any common ground if we can’t meet up and discuss these concerns?”
Mr. Thompson blasted Waze’s defense of its software and Mr. Adler depicted it as “naive and fatally flawed in its logic.”
The push to protect police officers from software that could endanger their lives comes just days after 26-year-old Ussamah Rahim tried to attack a group of law enforcement officers with a military-style knife in Boston. Court documents show that Mr. Rahim planned to try to attack the police because they were an easy target.
And the Waze software only makes it easier for similar attacks to take place, Mr. Adler said.
“By giving up a precise location of a law enforcement officer, you’re creating a potential ambush situation where they can be attacked from multiple persons at multiple angles,” he said.
National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund statistics show that the number of police officers who have died in ambush attacks have tripled in recent years. Only five ambush attacks resulted in the death of police officers in 2013, while 15 ambush attacks took place 2014.
For law enforcement officers, the recent rise in unsettling.
The “dark side of the app” is that it is a dangerous, tempting tool for cop killers who will, at some point in the future, use it to achieve their murderous goals, Mr. Thompson said.
“It’s just a matter of time,” he said. “And it’s unfortunate that we in society have to wait for something to happen.”