LAPD chief: Google app ‘poses a danger’ to cops

Waze is a Google app that lets users share traffic information. It also lets drivers know the location of police officers, in case they want to slow down.

That has Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck upset, but not because the city loses out on traffic ticket revenue. The chief believes Waze “poses a danger to the lives of police officers in the United States.” He wrote those words in a letter to Google CEO Larry Page dated Dec. 30. CNBC received a copy of the letter this week.

According to Beck, Ismaaiyl Brinsley used Waze to help track down and assassinate New York police officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu in December. It’s not clear whether that’s correct—U.S. News & World Report has reported that “investigators do not believe” Brinsley used Waze. However, Beck wrote, “I now know that Mr. Brinsley had been using the Waze app since early December to track the location of police.”

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The LAPD said Google has yet to respond, and the company did not immediately respond to an inquiry from CNBC.

However, Waze sent CNBC a statement saying its police “partners” actually support officer locations being highlighted on the app, “because most users tend to drive more carefully when they believe law enforcement is nearby.”

Nir Elias | Reuters Waze, an Israeli mobile satellite navigation application, is seen on a smartphone.

Nir Elias | Reuters
Waze, an Israeli mobile satellite navigation application, is seen on a smartphone.

Waze has been criticized by homeowners upset as their quiet streets are turned into rush-hour shortcuts.

However, there has been little backlash—even among police—about the feature highlighting officers’ locations. In an interview nine days before the attack on the NYPD officers, Troy Williams, an officer in the LAPD Valley Traffic Bureau, joked that the problem with the police feature on Waze is how often it’s wrong, rendering it meaningless.

For example, during a morning commute in Los Angeles this week, there were six reported police sightings on Waze, but this reporter saw only two actual squad cars.

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“When I see these dots, ‘police,’ ‘police,’ ‘police,’ it’s like you don’t even pay attention to it,” Officer Williams told CNBC last month.

His boss apparently now disagrees.

Chief Beck told Google, “I am confident your company did not intend the Waze app to be a means to allow those who wish to commit crimes to use the unwitting Waze community as their lookouts for the location of police officers.”

He wants to help Google change Waze’s ways in order to prevent “misuse” of the app, “avoiding any future deaths or injuries.”

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