Earlier this year, we noted how traffic-monitoring app Waze had become public enemy number one among law enforcement. Police in a growing number of cities have been trying to argue that the service puts police officers at greater risk of crazed-stalker attack by allowing users to share and comment on speed trap locations. Of course what law enforcement was really concerned about was a reduction in speed trap income, and someone with a death wish certainly doesn’t need an app to locate a police officer in a marked car parked alongside a major interstate. There’s also that whole First Amendment thing.
Among those Waze critics was Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck, who not only claimed Waze made parked officers a greater target for crazies, but would aid criminal skullduggerists in planning their Grand Theft Auto-esque heists:
“Beck said Tuesday the app could be used by criminals to target police or to evade officers. “It is not always in the public’s best interest to know where police are operating,” Beck said. “There is a criminal element,” he said, “who are able to ply their trade and craft more effectively by knowing where police are.”
If you’re a criminal using frequently inconsistent, crowdsourced speed trap data as your lookout for your multi-million dollar heist, you’re probably not going to be much of an actual threat. Interestingly though, Beck appears to have come to (at least some of) his senses with the news that Los Angeles law enforcement is now working with Google and Waze on a partnership that will involve sharing kidnapping and hit-and-run data with Waze users:
“Waze, an Israeli-made traffic and navigation app bought by Google in 2013, already provides updates on road closures via user contributions. The new partnership with the West Coast city’s government will see further alerts pop up over the next few months, showing ‘amber’ incidents including hit-and-run attacks and kidnappings. “This is going to be updated in real-time, every two minutes, giving motorists the information they need to […] get home for dinner in time,” said Garcetti.”
We get too few relatively happy endings (not that kidnappings and hit-and-runs are happy endings), but using LA’s 1.3 million Waze users as a force for good certainly seems like a welcome turnaround. Of course, that may not stop Beck from simultaneously trying to get speed trap data pulled from the app (and there are still some cops trying to flood Waze with bogus data to make crowdsourcing less useful), but it’s a good example of crowdsourcing being a positive agent for change — and not some kind of destructive societal menace that needs curtailing for the greater good.