Cyrus Farivar reports in ars technica:
“Cops spend about two-thirds of their time doing paperwork. Only 20 percent [of cops] have a camera. We believe, within 10 years, we can automate police reporting. We can effectively triple the world’s police force.” Police departments don’t buy body cameras every year, so being the first mover means that [Taser] will be the first-and perhaps last body camera most police departments will adopt. (Can you identify any other electric stun gun other than Taser?)
Taser, the company whose electronic stun guns have become a household name, is now offering a groundbreaking deal to all American law enforcement: free body cameras and a year’s worth of access to the company’s cloud storage service, Evidence.com.
In addition the company also announced that it would be changing its name to “Axon” to reflect the company’s flagship body camera product.
Right now, Axon is the single largest vendor of body cameras in America. It vastly outsells smaller competitors, including VieVu and Digital Ally—the company has profited $90 million from 2012 through 2016.
If the move is successful, Axon could quickly crowd out its rivals entirely. In recent years, federal dollars went to police agencies both big (Los Angeles) and small (Village of Spring Valley, New York), encouraging the purchase of body-worn cameras. However, while cameras are rapidly spreading across America, they are still not ubiquitous yet. Axon wants to change that.
“Only 20 percent [of cops] have a camera,” Rick Smith, the company’s CEO, told Ars. “Eighty percent are going out with a gun and no camera. We only need 20- to 30-percent conversion to make it profitable,” he added. “We expect 80 percent to become customers.”
Smith also explained that, in recent years, police have been under particular scrutiny.“We have protests happening against the police on a pretty regular basis,” he said.
Much of that tension has been heightened since August 2014, when Michael Brown, an unarmed, 18-year-old black man in Ferguson, Missouri, was shot and killed by a local cop. Crucially, the Ferguson Police Department did not have body cameras at the time. There was no definitive recording of the event. In the wake of Ferguson and the increased scrutiny it inspired nationwide, the White House announced a three-year $263 million grant program for local law enforcement body-cameras on December 1, 2014.
In the last two years, police largely have warmed to the idea of cameras. They believe they can protect themselves against false accusations of wrongdoing and can highlight professionalism. In a recent Pew poll, two-thirds of officers favored their use.
“Our belief is that a body camera is to a cop what a smartphone is to a civilian,” Smith said. “Cops spend about two-thirds of their time doing paperwork. We believe, within 10 years, we can automate police reporting. We can effectively triple the world’s police force.”
Smith said that, while the offer is only open to American law enforcement, Axon would consider foreign agencies on a case-by-case basis.
However, not everyone is thrilled with Taser’s move.
“Taser is clearly positioning itself to be identified as the (only) police body-camera company, which has some potentially troubling consequences for policing.” That’s according to Elizabeth Joh, a law professor at the University of California, Davis, who e-mailed Ars. She also said:
Police departments don’t buy body cameras every year, so being the first mover means that [Taser] will be the first-and perhaps last-model of body camera most police departments will adopt. (Can you identify any other electric stun gun company other than Taser?) Even more worrisome is the basic relationship: The police are the customers and Taser/Axon is the vendor. A tech vendor is making important decisions about policing.