Taser International rebrands and moves to corner the body-worn camera market. But the cost considerations for local departments don't go away.
Taser International last week announced a corporate makeover complete with a new name: Axon. The company also unveiled a new offer for police departments across the country to use Axon’s body-worn cameras (BWC) and cloud-based storage solution for a year at no charge.
In an effort to spur more police forces to adopt the developing technology, the company is offering one Axon Body 2 camera per officer and one license for Evidence.com, the company’s cloud-based platform for evidence storage, case management and video and photo support.
Once the one-year trial is complete, police departments can decide whether they want to pay $399 per Axon Body 2 camera. To continue using the service, departments also would have to begin paying $15 to $89 per month per BWC for video storage; the exact price depends on how long the state or local government requires footage to be retained.
Axon uses the Microsoft’s Azure cloud-based system, which is compliant with the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Security (CJIS) Security Policy, to run Evidence.com.
Axon spokesman Steve Tuttle estimated that only 20 percent of law enforcement currently use BWCs, despite widespread support from Americans for such systems. Two-thirds of police and 93 percent of the public think BWCs should be used to record interactions between officers and members of their communities, according to a recent Pew Research Center report.
“At the end of the year, they can buy our system that has all of the technology stored on the cloud,” Tuttle told GCN. “Most of this work is currently done on paper, but we want to get rid of the arcane filing systems.”
Thirty-six "major police departments" currently use Axon’s BWC technology, he said.
“Police departments need to look at their costs over the past year when it comes to the number of complaints when it comes to deciding to purchase our products,” said Tuttle. “Once they realize that they have fewer complaints, it could pay for the purchase of the system.”
Researchers recently examined the use of BWCs at seven sites in the U.S. and U.K. Their study, released in September 2016, examined BWC use by 1.4 million officer hours across 4,264 shifts in jurisdictions with over 2 million citizens in randomized controlled trials (RCT) in 2014 and early 2015.
They determined the BWCs resulted in a 93 percent drop in citizen complaints against the police.
“Individual officers become more accountable, and modify their behavior accordingly, while the more disingenuous complaints from the public fall by the wayside once footage is likely to reveal them as frivolous,” said Barak Ariel, a University of Cambridge fellow in experimental criminology and lead author of the report.
“The cameras create an equilibrium between the account of the officer and the account of the suspect about the same event -- increasing accountability on both sides,” said Ariel.
The Baltimore County Police Department (BCoPD) signed an eight-year, $12.5 million contract with Axon for BWCs in 2015, and officials are already seeing the upside since the cameras were first deployed in July.
“Our chief of police and county executive decided that this was a tool of the future and we needed to make an investment in these cameras and all of their associated costs,” Elise Armacost, director of the BCoPD’s public affairs section, told GCN.
Currently, the BCoPD has 518 BWCs in operation, but plans are in place for 1,435 officers to have BWCs by Sept. 30.
“It is too soon to have any meaningful data on the number of complaints, but we are already seeing a significant difference in our criminal investigations when it comes to use of force and police misconduct,” Armacost said. “While a body camera program is not something to be entered into lightly, we feel confident based on what we have already seen that the benefits are worthwhile.”
Other police departments in the U.S. have reported a drop in the number of complaints since the BWCs were first tested.
The San Diego Police Department conducted a field study with 600 Axon BWCs in 2014. The department found that complaints fell by 41 percent, total allegations dropped by 60 percent and the use of “personal body force” was reduced by 47 percent. These results were compared to prior periods in the department’s history when BWCs were not deployed.
"The body cameras have proven to be a positive game-changer for our department and the San Diego community," San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman said. "We find the cameras to be a win-win for our officers and citizens and we look forward to continued success with our body-worn video program here in San Diego."
In Birmingham, Ala., the city’s police department saw a 71 percent drop in citizen complaints two months after deploying 319 BWCs in November 2015.
However, Bryce Peterson, a senior research associate at the Urban Institute (a Washington, D.C-based think tank), told GCN there are challenges in comparing studies due to the limited number of years in which BWCs are operating and the differences in reporting complaints across departments in different jurisdictions.
“With the more cameras you have, then there’s more footage and you need to redact certain things, which does take a lot of manpower,” he said.
Peterson is in the process of reviewing preliminary findings in a study based on research from a RCT sample of 504 officers from Milwaukee from 2015, which found there was no drop in the use of force by officers wearing BWCs.
Police departments also have additional costs beyond the body cameras and the hardware when it comes to training and responding to requests from the public and law enforcement for footage.
The introduction of BWCs by the Charleston, S.C., Police Department resulted in the creation two new divisions for public safety IT which resulted in $481,400 increase in expenditures for its 2016 budget. The city has a population of 132,609.
“It really is the million dollar question on how police departments are going to be able to afford Axon’s BWCs after the one-year trial period is up,” said Peterson. “By then, they will be used to the Evidence.com platform, and it would be difficult for them to move to another company.”