Utah officials respond to traffic app that LAPD says poses a danger to police

Posted at 9:24 PM, Jan 30, 2015

SALT LAKE CITY -- It always seems when you're on the road and in a rush that traffic starts to slow. Rather than get caught in the middle of it all, there is now a way to get around it.

Waze, as it's appropriately called, is a traffic and navigation app for your Smartphone. Users pinpoint areas on the road where there is traffic or an accident, in order to allow other drivers to avoid it.

But along with cars, it is also monitoring people, specifically, police officers.

"I understand those that would think this is threatening," said Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder.

Recently, the app was discussed at a meeting of the Major County Sheriffs' Association in Washington D.C. According to Winder, the feelings were mixed. While he didn't think its content raised any red flags, others were worried.

"The perception, obviously, is that people now will be able to identify officers that are in vulnerable," Winder said. "But I think it was designed and used by the vast majority of people for legitimate purposes to identify police actions like a traffic accident to avoid it."

In Los Angeles, California, the police chief sent a letter to Google, which owns Waze, arguing the app compromises officer safety. Click here for more details.

"All information, total information, is not good," said LAPD Chief Charlie Beck. "I think all of us are becoming increasingly aware of that."

But that argument doesn't carry much weight for many who utilize the technology. Boasting millions of users across the country, Waze has become a go-to service for many on the road.

"Shutting down free speech about police activities is not a way of keeping police safer," said John Mejia, Legal Director of the ACLU in Utah.

According to Mejia, the concerns and criticism of law enforcement can in no way dictate what drivers do or don't do on the app.

"People have a protected First Amendment right to talk about what the police are doing in public," Mejia said.

As it is, law enforcement isn't worried about the app's purpose. However, if it were to change to solely focus on police, it would raise red flags for Winder.

"If it ever got modified to the point where it could capture real data from actual sources, that to me is a legitimate concern," Winder said. "I can't imagine a legitimate technology firm ever engaging in that kind of behavior."