Taser, already the dominant provider of police body cameras, is temporarily lowering its prices for new customers — to zero.
The company announced April 5 that it’s going to provide one Axon Body 2 camera for each sworn police officer in the country for free, along with extras like mounts, video storage and training materials, for a year. Since Axon offers its video storage solution, evidence.com, on a subscription basis, that would suggest an easy pipeline of future client agencies.
According to the Axon website, more than 3,500 agencies, including entities like campus police, have bought its body cameras.
The company also announced its name change from Taser to Axon — or, on the Nasdaq listings, AAXN. That’s a departure from its flagship product, the stun guns that most people casually refer to by the company’s now former name.
In a press release, the company painted the move as a win for transparency and convenience.
"Cameras are the first of many steps toward a future where officers feel more confident and are freed from mundane report writing to focus more time on community policing," Axon Chief Executive Officer Rick Smith said in the statement. "Ask any officer about what prevents them from spending more time in the community, they'll tell you it's because they spend the majority of their shift filling out forms, often by hand.”
The offering coincides with the company’s recent moves to bolster its artificial intelligence (AI) offerings. In February, Axon announced that it was acquiring two machine learning startups and folding them into a new AI unit. Using their work, Axon hopes to train its systems to better recognize objects and sequences of events in the video officers upload each day around the country.
“In time, cameras combined with artificial intelligence will make [manual processes] automatic and effortless by creating video records to replace manual forms,” Smith said in the statement.
The American Civil Liberties Union has cautiously praised the advent of body cameras as a tool for increasing transparency of police actions, especially when it comes to the use of force and fatalities. Toward that end, the ACLU has called on law enforcement agencies to be prepared to quickly release certain kinds of video evidence.
At the same time, the group has expressed concern about the cameras becoming “yet another surveillance tool.”
According to Bloomberg, Smith expects some legal challenges to the company’s efforts to give away cameras and support for free. Axon has already seen lawsuits from one competitor, Vievu, over its actions during body camera buys in New York City and Phoenix.