Waze traffic app could put police officers in danger, says union

The president of the union representing Winnipeg police says a new city-approved traffic app could be putting officers' lives in danger.

Winnipeg Police Association is concerned city's new traffic app could put officers at risk

A commuter uses the Waze app (Doug Trent/CBC)

The president of the union representing Winnipeg police says a new city-approved traffic app could be putting officers' lives in danger.

The city recently signed a deal with Google to allow the tech giant to access real time traffic information and to disseminate it through its Waze app.  

The problem is that the app also allows people to enter the locations of unmarked police vehicles, according to Maurice Sabourin, head of the Winnipeg Police Association.

"It could compromise the safety of our officers. Especially if a large portion of the population knows where our members are set up, let's say for traffic enforcement. Those officers are alone in their vehicle and most at risk. There are elements of the public out there who don't like the police very much and wouldn't think twice about harming some of our members," said Sabourin.

He believes when the city signed on for the service, it didn't realize the implications it could have for police.

"They probably just didn't think it through. And nobody from the city has come to us and asked if we have any concerns," he said.

Sabourin plans to take the officers' concerns to city hall. He's hoping they will disable part of the app that discloses where police cars are located. Making that information public can also jeopardize surveillance, sting operations, and investigations into organized crime, he said.

"It could have the potential to blow a $100,000 project if people can go on this app and see there are unmarked vehicles in and around their residence. Organized crime investigations are considerably expensive," said Sabourin.

App does 'incredible things' says mayor

Chairman of the Winnipeg police board, Councillor Jeff Browaty, said he understands the union's concerns.

"We need to make sure we minimize any of those risks. So if officers know they have been outed, they should change their location. They themselves should use the app to find out if they have been outed and move somewhere else," said Browaty.

Mayor Brian Bowman said Monday he had not heard the union's concerns. 

"Specific concerns that the police union may have obviously should be raised with the police board as well as to our administration and myself and we would be open to hearing those concerns, but I'm not aware of any factual evidence that would support that claim."

Bowman said he's excited about what the app means for Winnipeg commuters and others.

"Look, this app does incredible things in many communities around the world. It's the world's largest crowd-sourcing navigation and road app and we obviously are incredibly excited to be able to offer it to our citizens."

Until the union takes the issue before city hall, Sabourin had a message for officers. 

"Be very vigilant. Change locations frequently because you have to. It's a very dangerous and complex job and this is just another example of new and emerging technology that makes our job that much more difficult and that much more dangerous."

In an emailed statement Mike Wilson, Waze Country general manager, said the feature helps people follow the law and Waze is looking forward to working with the city to "ensure everyone's safety."

"Waze empowers drivers to be more knowledgeable and thus safer on the road. This includes police notifications which encourage drivers to slow down," Wilson said.