Friday, January 30, 2015

Thoughts on why Waze is used to track the police

Social media has become the norm rather than the exception. It is one of the fastest ways to share information with people you know and to learn from people they know. There is a new traffic application out there called Waze. This application runs on most smartphones and it's main purpose is to help people learn the best route to their destination, in real time with social media.

Waze has come under criticism recently for a function of the application that allows people to mark locations of police cars on the side of the road. This has become such a concern that the chief of police of Los Angeles has weighed in on the matter. The LA Times reports as follows:
"It is not always in the public's best interest to know where police are operating," Beck said, explaining the letter. "There is a criminal element that are able to ply their trade and ply their craft more effectively by knowing where police are."
Excuse me, Chief. I think it's important for you to remember who you work for. That would be members of the public at large. Yes, it's true that the criminal element can use the application to watch you, but if they really wanted to know where you are, they won't need Waze to find out. A well-financed operation will have no trouble finding you.

Perhaps the police are now extra touchy since Ferguson. I can understand that. But one of the factors that brought Ferguson on is the militarization of police. Here is an interesting analysis of the problem:
"There's a reason you separate military and the police. One fights the enemies of the state, the other serves and protects the people. When the military becomes both, then the enemies of the state tend to become the people."
This observation is not from one of our great political leaders. It is from a fictional character in the rebooted television series, Battlestar Galactica. It's a fantastic series if you haven't had the chance to watch it (available on DVD at Netflix, sadly, not for streaming). But it serves well as an allegory to current and recent politics in America.

Over the last 20 years, we've seen the military scooping up surplus military gear and buffing out their departments. The police in America kill more citizens per year than just about any other industrialized nation and the trend isn't letting up. When the police get too confident in their work, they tend to get very aggressive. National headlines about police shootings against unarmed citizens are a monthly if not weekly occurrence and a simple search on Google will yield many results.

It would seem to me that marking locations of police cars on the road is a function of citizen safety considering the elevated aggression of the police. In other words, if the people do not feel safe around the police who are supposed to serve them, shouldn't they have a right to track and monitor them?

That would seem to be a reasonable question, but perhaps not so in the minds of the police.
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