Chandler and Mesa police use Waymo video to help solve crimes

Posted at 6:11 PM, May 13, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-16 18:07:30-04

CHANDLER, AZ — Since Waymo came to town in 2016, both the Chandler and Mesa police departments have used video from the self-driving cars to help solve crimes.

"Video evidence is something that prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges want to see, as well as the jurors," said Chandler Public Information Officer, Jason McClimans.

McClimans says Chandler PD used Waymo video in a hit and run case back in 2019.

As policy Waymo doesn't hand over its video, so police had to get a subpoena from a judge to use it.

"And we were able to basically determine whether or not this hit and run suspect was caught on that video."

But what about your privacy?

Josh Abbott is a legal expert at ASU Law. He says the way police are obtaining the video is perfectly legal.

More and more, the burden is falling on Judges to decide the parameters.

In these cases for example, what evidence do police have that a Waymo vehicle was actually in the area where the crime took place? Did a witness see it? If they did, that would give a judge more reason to allow police access to the video.

"Police need to be careful and really build a case, collect all the evidence they can, and show a reasonable basis for asking for this information," Abbott said.

Waymo says their video isn't intended to capture or catch crime. That's another privacy factor a Judge must weigh from the start.

"Companies, if they gain a reputation of being kind of free and loose with people's information, that looks really bad and that could really hurt a company's bottom line," Abbott says.

"From a legal standpoint, I think Waymo is standing on pretty solid ground," he said.

McClimans says police take those factors into account as well and do their best to only request video when they have solid evidence that it will aid in an investigation.

"Their video cameras are designed not to record the public, it is for technology purposes only," McClimans said.

And he can't recall another instance his department has asked to use Waymo video since the initial hit and run case.

"Not to say that won't happen in the future, but I don't believe it’s happened since 2019," he said.

Speaking of the future, with cameras just about everywhere now, Abbott says we're just scratching the surface of deep privacy debates and legislation to come.

"What is intrusive? Where are our expectations of privacy? What should courts be willing to enforce and uphold and protect in terms of our privacy? Where do they draw the line? That's going to be a constant question coming up all the time now, and I think more frequently than ever," Abbott said.

Both Abbott and McClimans agree that we're now living in a world where everything is being recorded at all times. And whether that's good or bad depends on the situation and your perspective.

"People have to understand that even around vehicles, private vehicles, there's people who have cameras on there," McClimans said.

"Cameras are out there all over the place now, and people have to understand that they're going to get recorded even if it’s somebody using their own cell phone and recording somebody," McClimans added.

"It’s technology that a lot of people are embracing and in essence, it protects a lot of people as well. It’s just going to get more and more common and eventually people are going to be wearing personal cameras eventually down the road," he said.

As for companies like Waymo, Abbott said, "From Waymo’s perspective I think it would be really important for them to assure the public that they are handling any information that they gather while they're on the street, properly," he said. And when it comes to the release of video, he said, "They're not just taking law enforcement officers' word for it. They're protecting not only their customer's privacy and data, but also the privacy of the community," Abbott said.