Google’s Waze app is one of the hottest GPS apps on the market, but one of its popular features has nothing to do with navigation.
“Waze is cleaner and feels more suited for a driver to use, rather than Google Maps,” said Tim Hudak, a Waze user who has used the app in the Washington, D.C. and Tampa, Florida areas. “But let’s be serious, everyone uses it for the cops.”
Like every other navigation app, Waze can get you from point A to point B, but its main strength comes through crowd sourcing driver reports of everything from road hazards to construction — other users can confirm these as accurate when prompted — which help drivers get to their destination faster.
One of the most popular things to report, users tell Tech Insider, are speed traps.
Justin Ricke, a Waze user in Tampa, Florida, calls it the “spot-a-cop feature.”
“With [law enforcement] having all sorts of technology to scramble detectors and jammers, and with those technologies being illegal in some states,” said Ricke. “I guess there really is no substitute for the human eye coupled with mobile tech.”
Clearly, Waze isn’t only for “speed traps.” It allows people to mark plenty of other problems on the road up ahead, such as construction or traffic jams. But while its ability to spot radar-armed police officers may be a fan favourite, the feature does have its critics. Some sheriffs have criticised Waze as presenting a danger to officers, while one police association even wrote a letter to Google CEO Larry Page demanding that he disable the ability to report police.
One of Waze’s most prominent critics was Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck, who echoed other sheriffs’ complaints that it could be used for “police stalking.” But after meeting in April with representatives of Waze — who worked out a partnership that alerts drivers to street repairs and sporting events while sharing traffic data with the city — Beck praised the app as helping to improve traffic safety “while ensuring the safety of officers,” according to My News LA.
“The majority of our users use Waze to find the fastest route. The police issue is more of a meme than anything else,” Julie Mossler, a spokesperson for Waze, said in an email. “It is not possible to ‘stalk’ or follow a police officer by using Waze.”
Mossler explained to Tech Insider that when users report police activity, it gives only approximate GPS coordinates that are verified by the rest of the community. Once an officer moves on, it gets deleted. She offered examples of officers praising the app, like this retired agent with the DEA, and the spokesperson for the San Jose Police Department, who told The San Jose Mercury News, “we want to be seen.”
That’s exactly what Tech Insider heard from the California Highway Patrol.
“I’m glad they are using it,” said Officer Ramberto Salcido, a spokesperson for CHP, in a phone interview. “If that’s going to slow them down, if an officer is there, I think that kind of helps them out.”
He added: “If it’s going to prevent somebody from doing something illegal, by all means put us on that Waze app, if it’s going to slow people down on the freeway.”
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