VICE News is closely watching policing in America. Check out the Officer Involved blog here.
The makers of the hugely popular and controversial Google-owned Waze app, which helps commuters navigate the hazards of peak traffic hours by identifying traffic snarls and even pinpointing the location of traffic cops, have come under fire in recent days from police, who say the tracking program can be used by criminals to target officers.
Opposition to the free app has been led by Los Angeles police chief Charlie Beck, who claimed the social media and GPS-operated system has the potential to aid criminal activity by helping locate cops. But a spokeswoman from Waze fired back at the claims this week, saying the company works with police to ensure their "safety and security."
"These relationships keep citizens safe, promote faster emergency response and help alleviate traffic congestion," Waze's Head of Global Communications Julie Mossler said in a statement sent to VICE News. "Police partners support Waze and its features, including reports of police presence."
Mossler said the app promotes road safety "because most users tend to drive more carefully when they believe law enforcement is nearby."
The contention began in late December after Beck wrote a letter to Google asking the company, which purchased Waze for $966 million in 2013, to review its police location feature, saying it could be, "misused by those with criminal intent to endanger police officers and the community."
Beck claimed that the accused murderer of two New York cops had used the app in December to detect the location of the officers hours before he shot them in their parked patrol car in Brooklyn.
Authorities revealed the alleged killer had posted a screenshot of the app to his Instagram account that same day.
"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," Beck added in the letter, which was released publicly this week.
The app operates through a network of motorists reporting traffic jams and accidents to other users in real time, which appear as cartoon icons on a map. Online critics of the app have also pointed out that the program encourages users to type on their phones while driving, which can pose potential crash risks.
The app aims to counter this issue by providing a warning on their user license agreement expressly stating that, "Sending traffic updates and text messages to the service while you drive is strictly prohibited."
The app has been downloaded by some 50 million people around the world, according to Reuters.
The LAPD declined to further comment to VICE News about the matter Wednesday, but did say Beck was in talks with Google about the app.