New Taser ‘Shoots’ Evidence Stun-Gun Maker’s Technology Lets Police Record Video

Taser International Inc. has spied a business opportunity in the legal battles often surrounding its controversial stun guns: a high-tech system worn by police officers that would record every minute of their shift.

The new system would be able to record and save large amounts of audio and video data that police departments could easily sift through and analyze. Taser says the system, which is still in internal beta testing, will help eliminate some of the uncertainty that often surrounds law enforcement litigation, and help police agencies manage their video data

“Law enforcement agencies have all these data-collection and video-collection requirements, but they might not have the IT know-how or money to store all this information,” says Taser Chief Executive Rick Smith.

Video evidence often needs to be handled very carefully due to chain-of-custody requirements, according to Mike Fergus, program manager for the International Association of Chiefs of Police Technology Center. Requirements vary widely by agency, he says.

The first part of Taser’s system, dubbed Axon, consists of a head-mounted camera that records high-resolution video, as well as a storage device that can hold eight hours of recording, worn inside a police officer’s belt. The officer can control the system through a device mounted on his or her shirt, and it includes a privacy setting that offers the option not to record. The entire system weighs about 1.2 pounds.

Police officers would pick up their unit at the beginning of their shift and log in using a private code. At the end of the shift, they would download recorded data by plugging part of the unit into a securely mounted docking device at the police station. Encrypted video would then be transferred to multiple remote data centers. The company says evidence captured can’t be deleted or altered.

After the video is uploaded, the officer or a supervisor can log on to the corresponding Web site, for which agencies pay a monthly subscription, and create tactical maps and link videos from different units.

Though the system will likely help clear up disputes surrounding use of its stun guns, Taser sees it being useful in other police skirmishes. “Imagine if this type of system would have been available during the disputed incident in Cambridge, Mass.,” said Mr. Smith, referring to the dispute between Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. and the Cambridge police department.

But Taser could face problems with the system’s adoption as city budgets are still tight and police departments may not have the money to spend on additional technologies. Each unit retails for about $1,700 per officer, and the Web-site subscription carries a cost of $99 per month, per officer.

“We see the positive evidentiary value and the officer safety value, but the cost is prohibitive for us,” says Captain John O’Grady of the Orlando Police Department. Still, Mr. O’Grady says the department is in talks with Taser to become a beta tester of the system.

Mr. Smith says coming stimulus money could allow certain agencies to afford the technology. He is also hoping the benefits a department would receive — such as less time spent on officer paperwork and more time on the street — will help the system sell itself.

Taser hopes the technology, which it expects to start selling in October, will provide a more steady income stream, as opposed to the self-described “lumpy” sales of its namesake stun guns.

The new products will also let Taser capitalize on the trend of delivering services over the Internet, which is seen by many as a more efficient distribution model then physically selling software. To that end, Taser hired former Microsoft Corp. executive Jas Dhillon -who helped lead the company’s Office Live initiative — to develop Taser’s new products.


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