Critics argue the app gives too much information to those who may wish to do officers harm.
Sheriff Mike Brown of Bedford County, Virginia refers to Waze as a “police stalker” and says it creates a real danger for law enforcement.
"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,'' said Brown, who also serves as the chairman of the National Sheriffs Association technology committee.
Brown and others, like Southern California reserve deputy sheriff Sergio Kopelev, cite the Instagram account of Ismaaiyl Brinsley, the main accused of slaying NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos in Brooklyn in December. Along with threatening messages, Brinsley posted a screenshot from the Waze app.
Investigators do not believe there is any connection between Brinsley’s use of the app and the murders, as Brinsley threw his phone away before he ambushed the officers two miles away.
Waze only displays an icon indicating a police officer nearby, unlike many location-based apps that show precise distances.
"I can think of 100 ways that it could present an officer-safety issue,'' said Jim Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police. "There's no control over who uses it. So, if you're a criminal and you want to rob a bank, hypothetically, you use your Waze.''
Police are seeking support from law enforcement trade groups to pressure Google to disable the police functioning. This puts Google, the company that purchased the app for $966 million in 2013, again at the center of a safety and security debate.
Google has sustained a tricky relationship in recent years with both government and law enforcement bodies, which often push for the tech giant to turn over emails or other private data on its customers. After revelations that the NSA hacked into Google’s overseas communications, it and other tech companies upped their security by coding heavy encryption for its users, which the U.S. government said could inhibit investigations by law enforcement.
“I do not think it is legitimate to ask a person-to-person communication to cease simply because it reports on publicly visible law enforcement,'' Nuala O'Connor, head of the civil liberties group Center for Democracy and Technology, told the Associated Press.
She said a bigger concern among privacy advocates is how much information about customers Waze shares with law enforcement, since the service necessarily monitors their location continually as long as it's turned on.