For those who live in a congested city with poor city planning, Waze is a godsend. For police officers, however, the popular app is putting their lives at risk.
That's the argument being made by Sergio Kopelev, a reserve deputy for the Orange County Sheriff's Department who spent many years running the cybercrimes unit for the Bedford County Sheriff's Office in Virginia. Kopelev is leading a movement within law-enforcement organizations to get Google, Waze's owner, to turn off a feature in the app that lets users geotag a cop's location.
Kopelev tells Fusion that he's not against the app itself—he likes the traffic updates—but feels that Waze and Google are being negligent by exposing a police officer's location. Kopelev sees the feature as a public menace and equates it to the now defunct Gawker Stalker, a map that allowed the site's readers to drop a pin whenever/wherever they spotted a celebrity. Gawker Stalker was widely criticized—most famously by Jimmy Kimmel—and the media company eventually took the map down.
"When you pin an officer's location, you don't know who you're broadcasting that information to," Kopelev explained. He cited how Ismaaiyl Brinsley had allegedly posted a screengrab of him using Waze to track police movement before killing NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos. Authorities have yet to tie Waze to the deaths of Officers Liu and Ramos.
Kopelev's crusade has picked up some allies, including the National Sheriffs Association and the Fraternal Order of Police.
"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," Bedford County Sheriff Mike Brown recently told the Associated Press. Brown is Kopelev's former employer and is the chairman of the National Sheriffs Association technology committee.
"There's no control over who uses it," Jim Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of the Police, added. "So, if you're a criminal and you want to rob a bank, hypothetically you use your Waze."
When asked if he felt the same way about drivers using their headlights to alert others about police presence, and about Twitter accounts that tweet out the location of possible police checkpoints, Kopelev said that it was comparing apples to oranges.
"When you tweet your friends about a DUI checkpoint or flash your lights, you are alerting people who you have a direct communication with," he explained. "You don't have that when you use this Waze feature."
For their part, Waze is proud of its collaboration with various police departments, and claims that this feature provides a public service instead of a public risk.
"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," Julie Mossler, Head of Global Communications for Waze, told Fusion.
Fidel Martinez is an editor at Fusion.net. He's also a Texas native and a lifelong El Tri fan.