TASER rebrands, offers body cameras to every cop

Controversial police tool manufacturer TASER, 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. It will offer any police officer a one-year free trial use of its cameras, part of a push to emphasize its cameras and data management technology.

"I started as a 23-year-old idealist working in an inventor's 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 company's website on Wednesday. "I couldn't have predicted how our product and the company itself would evolve, but I'm incredibly proud of how it has. 23 years and 180,000 lives saved later, I'm 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."

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The Taser X26 electronic weapon is displayed for a photograph at the Taser International Inc. manufacturing facility in Scottsdale, Arizona, U.S., on Wednesday, April 22, 2015. Taser International Inc. is scheduled to release earnings figures on April 30. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
The Taser X26 smart weapon and AXON police body cameras are arranged for a photograph at the Taser International Inc. manufacturing facility in Scottsdale, Arizona, U.S., on Wednesday, April 22, 2015. Taser International Inc. is scheduled to release earnings figures on April 30. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A picture taken on February 29, 2016 in Paris shows taser guns during a presentation of the new equipment for the French anti-crime brigade (BAC) of the prefecture of Paris as part of the 2016 BAC-PSIG Plan. / AFP / ALAIN JOCARD (Photo credit should read ALAIN JOCARD/AFP/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - MAY 15 - Taser and camera wore by police officer during a press conference introducing new body-worn police video cameras, May 15, 2015. Toronto police have launched a body-worn camera pilot project that will see 100 officers test three different types of equipment. (Andrew Francis Wallace/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
A British police officer, armed with a taser gun, stands on patrol at the gates to Downing Street in London, U.K., on Thursday, March 2, 2017. U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May set a self-imposed deadline of March 31 to formally serve notice to the EU, after which the two sides are supposed to have two years to come to a settlement. Photographer: Luke MacGregor/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A French gendarme holds a taser as he patrols at the Christmas market in Tours, central France, on December 23, 2016. Security was beefed up at Christmas markets across Europe after a lorry ploughed through a market in Berlin on December 19, 2016, killing 12 people and heightening security fears at the onset of the holiday season. / AFP PHOTO / GUILLAUME SOUVANT (Photo credit should read GUILLAUME SOUVANT/AFP/Getty Images)
An employee tests an X26 Taser during production at the Taser International Inc. manufacturing facility in Scottsdale, Arizona, U.S., on Wednesday, April 22, 2015. Taser International Inc. is scheduled to release earnings figures on April 30. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
An employee tests an X26 Taser during production at the Taser International Inc. manufacturing facility in Scottsdale, Arizona, U.S., on Wednesday, April 22, 2015. Taser International Inc. is scheduled to release earnings figures on April 30. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Taser spark tests are conducted during production at the Taser International Inc. manufacturing facility in Scottsdale, Arizona, U.S., on Wednesday, April 22, 2015. Taser International Inc. is scheduled to release earnings figures on April 30. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Employees assemble Taser smart weapon cartridges at the Taser International Inc. manufacturing facility in Scottsdale, Arizona, U.S., on Wednesday, April 22, 2015. Taser International Inc. is scheduled to release earnings figures on April 30. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
An employee holds a Taser electrical weapon during production at the Taser International Inc. manufacturing facility in Scottsdale, Arizona, U.S., on Wednesday, April 22, 2015. Taser International Inc. is scheduled to release earnings figures on April 30. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
An employee assembles Taser X26 electronic weapons at the Taser International Inc. manufacturing facility in Scottsdale, Arizona, U.S., on Wednesday, April 22, 2015. Taser International Inc. is scheduled to release earnings figures on April 30. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Employees assemble Taser smart weapon cartridges at the Taser International Inc. manufacturing facility in Scottsdale, Arizona, U.S., on Wednesday, April 22, 2015. Taser International Inc. is scheduled to release earnings figures on April 30. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
An employee tests and packages AXON police body cameras at the Taser International Inc. manufacturing facility in Scottsdale, Arizona, U.S., on Wednesday, April 22, 2015. Taser International Inc. is scheduled to release earnings figures on April 30. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A mannequin wearing a Taser electronic weapon is displayed at the Taser International Inc. manufacturing facility in Scottsdale, Arizona, U.S., on Wednesday, April 22, 2015. Taser International Inc. is scheduled to release earnings figures on April 30. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
An employee scans bar codes on Taser electronic weapon cartridges being prepared for shipment at the Taser International Inc. manufacturing facility in Scottsdale, Arizona, U.S., on Wednesday, April 22, 2015. Taser International Inc. is scheduled to release earnings figures on April 30. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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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 the federal government would provide $75 million to local law enforcement agencies to purchase 50,000 cameras over 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 which was for the 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 company's revenue soared from about $6 million to $37 million, according to records provided by TASER. One of the company's biggest growth spots was licensing for its Evidence.com data management software, a vital companion to any cop using one of the company's 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.

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WEST VALLEY CITY, UT - MARCH 2: West Valley City patrol officer Gatrell starts a body camera recording by pressing a button on his chest before he takes a theft report from a construction worker with his newly-issued body camera attached to the side of a pair of glasses on March 2, 2015 in West Valley City, Utah. West Valley City Police Department has issued 190 Taser Axon Flex body cameras for all it's sworn officers to wear starting today. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 04: Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, left, with LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, right, who is wearing a body camera, shows the new LAPD body camera and cell phone with special ap's that allow the officer to see what the camera is recording, during a press conference at LAPD Mission Division Friday September 4, 2015 as they talked about the rollout of the agency's officer body cameras. The rollout of the body cameras began last Monday at LAPD's Mission Division in the north San Fernando Valley when officers received final instructions on using the cameras during roll call training sessions. About 1,000 video were recorded during the first two days of operation, according to Mayor Garcetti. (Photo by Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
WEST VALLEY CITY, UT - MARCH 2: West Valley City patrol officer Gatrell performs a traffic stop on the first day of use of his newly-issued body camera attached to the side of a pair of glasses on March 2, 2015 in West Valley City, Utah. West Valley City Police Department has issued 190 Taser Axon Flex body cameras for all it's sworn officers to wear starting today. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 30: A police officer wears a body camera at a rally for Michael Brown August 30, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Michael Brown, an 18-year-old unarmed teenager, was shot and killed by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson on August 9. His death caused several days of violent protests along with rioting and looting in Ferguson. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)
WEST VALLEY CITY, UT - MARCH 2: West Valley City patrol officer Gatrell performs a traffic stop on the first day of use of his newly-issued body camera attached to the side of a pair of glasses on March 2, 2015 in West Valley City, Utah. West Valley City Police Department has issued 190 Taser Axon Flex body cameras for all it's sworn officers to wear starting today. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
WEST VALLEY CITY, UT - MARCH 2: Several newly-deployed body cameras and batteries sit in the patrol room charging and downloading video at the West Valley City Police Department on March 2, 2015 in West Valley City, Utah. West Valley City Police Department has issued 190 Taser Axon Flex body cameras for all it's sworn officers to wear starting today. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 03: New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio holds up a body camera that the New York Police Department (NYPD) will begin using during a press conference on December 3, 2014 in New York City. The NYPD is beginning a trial exploring the use of body cameras; starting Friday NYPD officers in three different precincts will begin wearing body cameras during their patrols. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 03: New York Police Department (NYPD) Sergeant Joseph Freer demonstrates how to use and operate a body camera during a media press conference on December 3, 2014 in New York City. The NYPD is beginning a trial exploring the use of body cameras; starting Friday NYPD officers in three different precincts will begin wearing body cameras during their patrols. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
A body camera from Taser is seen during a press conference at City Hall September 24, 2014 in Washington, DC. The Washington, DC Metropolitan Police Department is embarking on a six- month pilot program where 250 body cameras will be used by officers. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
(L-R) Washington DC Police Officer Debra Domino, Master Patrol Officer Benjamin Fettering and Officer JaShawn Colkley model body cameras during a press conference at City Hall September 24, 2014 in Washington, DC. The Washington, DC Metropolitan Police Department is embarking on a six- month pilot program where 250 body cameras will be used by officers. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
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"When you compare [Evidence.com] to anything else out there, you see that you're getting an ecosystem that allows [police officers] to manage and store anything from photos to video to word docs — all the evidence for their cases in one place," Steve Tuttle, the company's vice president of strategic communications, told Vocativ for a previous article. "Most of these agencies, when they see the price, there isn't a sticker shock. They say, 'I can't 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 [body cams] save the officer's butt more than once when a complaint comes in," one New York State trooper previously said.

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 in technology, policy, and social issues, posted to Twitter.

"If departments want to take TASER up on their offer, they'd better first think through the hard policy trade-offs that come with cameras," Yu said.

The post TASER Rebrands, Offers Body Cameras To Every Cop appeared first on Vocativ.

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