App showing traffic cop locations raises concern

Friday , May 29, 2015 - 10:26 AM

Standard-Examiner correspondent

OGDEN – National debate is stirring about a new traffic app called Waze and whether it places police officers in harm’s way, to the point some officers in the U.S. are concerned for their safety.

Utah law enforcement differ, however, in their reaction to the website app.

The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund showed ambush attacks as the number one reason officers were killed in the line of duty. This has been the number one reason for police fatalities every year since 2009.

Waze is a Google created app that allows users to report traffic incidents in the area, including locations of highway patrol officers responding to those incidents. Many officers believe the app increases the threat on their lives.

But Matthew Gwynn, Public Information Officer for Roy Police Department, does not believe the app increases ambush attacks in Utah.

“We are public employees, our job is to be visible in the public,” Gwynn said.

He believes most officers are not even aware the app exists. Gwynn noted that, “just because we are not aware of the app being used to target police officers, does not necessarily mean it is not happening.”

Lt. Susan Poulsen of the Davis County Sheriff’s Office, agrees that there have not been any implications that the app has threatened officers’ safety in Utah.

“I can understand the concern if it is being used for criminal intent, but the biggest crime deterrent is our presence,” said Poulsen, who believes the app would actually lead to more improved behavior. “The likely result of publicizing the location of, for example, a highway patrol officer, is people would slow down.”

Users of the app discuss the reality of what “real time” traffic updates mean. Bob Lowe, a Waze user from Layton, believes the app provides valuable information for traffic warnings. “People can report anything, obstacles in the road, traffic jams, crashes, or patrol cars,” Lowe said.

Lowe’s experience using the app led him to find that 80 percent of the time the traffic cop locations are outdated before he can even get there. The application only receives updates from its users as they report information.

“It’s a community app, it doesn’t work without the community,” Lowe said.

He argues the app helps you be aware as you drive, not escape or target police officers.

Gwynn voiced some concern in the apparent increase of citizens assaulting officers. “There is some concern if the targeting of officers increases because people know officers’ locations,” Gwynn said.

At least in Roy, officers are yet to complain about residents using the app. If the app could be linked to officer attacks, Gwynn feels they may take a different mindset.

Poulsen believes, however, “such a small population” of residents are intent on hurting law enforcement. The app presents few risks and likely will help increase awareness of officers in the area. Poulsen sees that as a good thing to increase safety on Utah roads.

“We are always trying to find the right balance (with community relations),” Gwynn said about keeping up a public-oriented focus.

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