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Axon Aims to Reduce Police Shooting Deaths Via New Database

The company, known for Tasers and body cameras, says detailed analysis of officer-involved fatal shootings could lead to better training and non-lethal technology. The database goes into minute detail about fatalities.

Closeup of an illuminated light bar on top of a law enforcement vehicle.
Public safety technology vendor Axon has taken another step toward its “moonshot” goal of severely reducing police-involved shooting deaths: A database that details those firearm fatalities.

The company, which sells such tools as body-worn cameras and Tasers, along with dispatch, evidence management and other software, says the database currently contains information about all shootings from all U.S. jurisdictions between 2021 and June 2023 that involved police and civilians.

The data was compiled with the help of the Institute for Intergovernmental Research, a Florida-based nonprofit focused on criminal justice research and administration.

The Axon Public Safety Gun Fatality Database goes into precise detail about police-involved shootings. As of Nov. 10, it showed 2,891 deaths, including 141 officer fatalities.

The time of day of shootings, the race, age and gender of the dead, what sparked the police responses, the use of body cameras and Tasers in those incidents and other information are shown via black, brown and yellow graphics.

For example, Tasers were used in 10 percent of those fatal shooting incidents, and 373 of the shootings stemmed from domestic disturbance calls, according to the database. Local police agencies were involved in the vast majority of the shootings, not tribal, state or federal law enforcement.

“Data leads to analysis,” Mike Wagers, Axon’s senior vice president of strategic initiatives, told Government Technology.

Axon announced its “moonshot” goal in 2022, an effort that, if successful, is unlikely to harm the company’s bottom line.

The company wants to help cut gun-related deaths involving the police by 50 percent by 2033. As Axon stated in a financial report earlier this year, “we are committed to investing in the technology, training and data that will help achieve better outcomes and deepen trust between law enforcement and communities.”

The data can help Axon and others figure out better ways to prevent shootings, Wagers said.

Axon has previous experience with analysis of fatal police shootings, with the company reviewing 500 “publicly available incident reviews” from the Washington Post in 2021, according to a blog post.

The review focused on the conditions surrounding the shootings. One finding was that 80 percent of those incidents “had backup officers on scene, occurred within 40 feet, and had no physical obstructions between officers and the subjects.”

That finding, in turn, helped guide development of a new Axon Taser weapon, the company said.

The need to use “cutting-edge technology to keep both civilians and officers safe” motivated Axon to create its new and more comprehensive database, according to that blog post.

The ongoing collection of that data could, for instance, help the company and others better understand if more advanced Tasers might prove effective.

The growing database also could help determine if better training for police responding to mental health incidents could reduce fatal shootings — or, as the company put it, if “body-worn cameras with bi-directional communications that allow mental health professionals to be remotely present during incidents” also could help.

The new database shows that 128 of the fatal shootings originated with behavioral health or social service calls.

Axon plans to expand the database by adding such information as how many years of experience officers involved in a fatal shooting have, the criminal history of the subject and the distance of the nearest hospital from the incident.

“We feel pretty confident” in the moonshot goal, Wagers said.

As he put it, better training and technology — a longer-range Taser, for example — could potentially reduce those fatal shootings.
Thad Rueter writes about the business of government technology. He covered local and state governments for newspapers in the Chicago area and Florida, as well as e-commerce, digital payments and related topics for various publications. He lives in Wisconsin.