Should Google remove smartphone app that shows police on maps?

According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, 38 states have laws in place that allow police to conduct sobriety checkpoints. Among these states is our own state of California which, thanks to the 1987 case of Ingersoll v. Palmer, has rules in place to govern how these checkpoints are to be conducted in order to avoid violating a person’s rights. One such rule is publicly announcing checkpoint locations and the dates and times they will be active.

Although some continue to argue that the use of sobriety checkpoints is unconstitutional because police do not have the necessary reasonable suspicion to conduct such a stop, their use continues across the state because people have the opportunity to avoid them if they know where they will be.

Aside from listening to the news or watching for signs announcing an upcoming checkpoint stop, drivers here in California can now use their phones to tell them where officers may be posted thanks to a Google app called Waze. A combination of social networking and GPS navigation, Waze allows users to warn other drivers about possible congestion, accidents, and even the presence of police.

But aside from the legal issue of privacy, Waze appears to be angering some police departments, such as the Los Angeles Police Department, who fear that people may use the app inappropriately to target and harm police. Some departments are even asking Google to disable this feature on the app.

So should Google remove the smartphone app that shows police on maps? From the public’s standpoint, the answer is no. Once an officer is seen in a certain area, they become public knowledge, some may argue. It raises an important question: how is posting this information on a cellphone app different from telling friends through word of mouth?

But from law enforcement’s perspective, the answer is yes because some people might use the app to “stalk” police and harm them later on, which was the concern pointed out by Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck in a December 30th letter to Google.

Some believe though that the real concern among police departments is that the app encourages people to avoid areas with police presence, thereby reducing the likelihood of stopping a crime. It’s worth pointing out though that even if this was the case, police would still need reasonable suspicion to make a traffic stop or risk violating a person’s rights.

Source: The Associated Press, “Law enforcement wants popular police-tracking app disabled,” Eileen Sullivan, Jan. 26, 2015

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