UK police accused of uploading misleading Waze reports to encourage safer driving

“We definitely don’t drop police markers on Waze at random points on our patrol, nope - never.”

Dado Ruvic / reuters

The Surrey police force in the UK has found itself at the center of a controversy after one of its official Twitter accounts shared how some officers use Waze to encourage drivers to slow down. In a series of tweets spotted by The Guardian, the department’s Roads Policing unit revealed it uses the crowdsourced navigation app to share misleading information.

“We definitely don’t drop police markers on Waze at random points on our patrol, nope - never,” the unit said, adding a winking emoji for good measure. “An easy way to get drivers to slow down on our roads – thanks Waze.” As you can probably guess, the tweet wasn’t received warmly, with some people accusing Surrey Police of operating “phantom units” and violating the UK’s Computer Misuse Act. Others didn’t go so far, but many pointed out that Waze has a policy against repeatedly posting false reports.

“Technically not false though. We are there at that very specific point in time,” the traffic unit said in response to one accusation of sharing misleading information – this time using a smirking emoji to punctuate its point. “Nowhere on Waze does it say the patrol has to be stationary,” it added.

Waze did not immediately respond to Engadget’s comment request. After the tweet attracted media attention, Surrey Police issued the following statement:

While officers used this application to deter dangerous driving on our roads, this is not a tactic or policy endorsed by Surrey Police. Innovation and technology will always have a part to play in keeping our communities safe but, although well-intentioned, we know this has caused concern and undermines the trust the public has in us. Media coverage has claimed “phantom” units have been created. This is not the case. Technology has not replaced the presence of officers on our roads. We’re currently reviewing and addressing the use of this tactic.

As for what prompted some to use the tactic in the first, the Roads Policing account suggested it was partly a response to there being fewer officers to enforce traffic laws. “We’re not responsible for the significant cuts to policing budgets over the years that decimated traffic units across the country,” the account said. According to data from the UK government’s Home Department, as of March 2022 there were 4,102 full-time officers policing roads in England and Wales. Just seven years earlier, that number was 5,237.