Taser has shocked the law enforcement world by announcing that it will be offering free body cameras and a year of access to the company’s cloud storage system to all American police forces.
Rick Smith, the CEO of the company, told Ars Technica that they want to change the adoption rate of cameras across the U.S. “Only 20 percent [of police officers] have a camera. 80 percent are going out with a gun and no camera,” Smith said. Of course, this was not necessarily out of the goodness of their heart either. “We only need 20 to 30 percent conversion to make it profitable. We expect 80 percent to become customers,” Smith continued.
Along with the offer, Taser will be changing its name to Axon, the name of its brand of body cameras, which now is its flagship product. Axon is currently dominating the market in body cameras, making profits of $90 million from 2012 to 2016.
Police have been warming to the ideas of body cameras in the past couple of years, especially as the public backlash against supposed police brutality has become more and more prevalent. Two-thirds of officers are in favor of them, according to a recent Pew study. “We have protests against the police on a pretty regular basis,” Smith explained. Police now see cameras as being crucial to protecting themselves against any false accusations, as well as highlighting professionalism on the job.
Not only do body cameras protect police from false accusations, but they could be used to help cut down the amount of administrative work needed. “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 ten years, we can automate police reporting. We can effectively triple the world’s police force.”
However, there are some criticisms of Taser’s move. Elizabeth Joh, a law professor at UC Davis, explained her worries in an email to Ars Technica:
Taser is clearly positioning itself to be identified as the (only) police body-camera company, which has some potentially troubling consequences for policing… 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.