TASER rebrands, distances itself from shock-weapons in new body-camera push

BY JAMES KING

Controversial police tool manufacturerTASER, whose eponymous electroshock weapon evokes, for many, images of police brutality and excessive force, is rebranding itself as a law enforcement surveillance company.

TASER is now called Axon, named after one of its police body cameras, the company announced Wednesday. Itwill offer any police officer a one-year free trial use of its cameras, part of apush toemphasize its cameras and data management technology.

I started as a 23-year-old idealist working in an inventors garage in Tucson, desperate to bring to market the technology that would become our TASER weapons, CEO Rick Smith wrote in a note to customers posted on the companys website on Wednesday. I couldnt have predicted how our product and the company itself would evolve, but Im incredibly proud of how it has. 23 years and 180,000 lives saved later, Im more excited than ever by our mission to protect life and the impact we can continue to make in the world with our broader mission as Axon.

TASER saw huge spikes in revenue as body cameras became more popular and the Department of Justice began recommending law enforcement agencies adopt them following a spate of high-profile police shootings.

In December of 2014, after police officers controversially shot and killed two unarmed black men Eric Garner in New York City and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri the Obama administration asked Congress to allocate more than $250 million in federal funds for law enforcement agencies across the country to buy body cameras and develop a system to record interactions with civilians.

The following May, the Justice Department announced that thefederal government would provide$75 million to local law enforcement agencies to purchase 50,000 camerasover a three-year period.The first wave of funding was dispersed in September of 2015 $20 million was granted to several law enforcement agencies across the country, $17 million of whichwas forthe purchase of body-worn cameras, with the remaining money allocated to technical assistance, training, and evaluation tools.

All the while, TASER was cleaning up between 2013 and 2015, the companys revenue soared from about $6 million to $37 million, according to records provided by TASER. One of the companys biggest growth spots was licensing for its Evidence.com data management software, a vital companion to any cop using one of the companys cameras. Between 2015 and 2016, TASER saw licenses for Evidence.com grow from 27,000 to 132,000, and that number is expected continue climbing as more law enforcement agencies invest in body cameras.

When you compare to anything else out there, you see that youre getting an ecosystem that allows to manage and store anything from photos to video to word docs all the evidence for their cases in one place, Steve Tuttle, the companys vice president of strategic communications, told Vocativ for a previous article.Most of these agencies, when they see the price, there isnt a sticker shock. They say, I cant afford not to have these.

Police generally like the idea of body cameras Vocativ has spoken with dozens of law enforcement officers in our coverage of TASER and police body cameras and we were hard-pressed to find one who opposed them.

I have seen save the officers butt more than once when a complaint comes in, oneNew York State trooper previously said. If you are doing your job correctly theres no reason to care if you are wearing one or not.

Others, however, note potential privacy concerns, especially as Smith is an open proponent of combining police cameras with real-time analytics, like facial recognition software.

Body cams are also systems of surveillance. They record the public, gather evidence, and are concentrated in our communities of color, Harlan Yu, a technologist at Upturn, a think tank that specializes intechnology, policy, and social issues, posted to Twitter.

If departments want to take TASER up on their offer, theyd better first think through the hard policy trade-offs that come with cameras, Yusaid.

Read more: https://www.dailydot.com/layer8/taser-axon-free-police-body-cameras/