Every good cop who has faced a jury or a board of inquiry for some use-of-force beef has probably thought the same thing at one time or another during the proceedings: If you could just see what I saw, then you'd agree that you would have shot, hit, kicked, OCed, or used a TASER on that guy, too.
TASER International wants to give you the ability to show said jury or board of inquiry exactly what you saw on the street. That's the idea behind the company's TASERCAM and its soon to be launched Autonomous eXtended on-Officer Network (AXON).
At first glance, AXON appears to be nothing more than an officer-worn audio-video recording system. But TASER International CEO Rick Smith says that it is really a "tactical computer" offering multiple capabilities to officers in the field, including:
Digital evidence collection
DVD-quality audio-video evidence recording
Two-way audio communication
Tactical control of certain TASER devices such as the XREP via wireless transmission
Built-in searchable reporting software with narration
AXON is essentially a three-component system. The user wears a special earpiece like a cell phone Bluetooth headset that holds an all-in-one video imager, audio microphone, and earpiece speaker. This attaches to the AXON computer system, which stores the video and audio record of everything the officer sees, hears, and says. Finally, the AXON computer, which is about the size of a small smartphone, fits in a lightweight cradle that sits atop the officer's shoulder. The cradle has push-to-talk features and stands in for a standard shoulder mic.
Smith says that one of the goals of the AXON development team was to create a system that provided the wearer's eye-level view of any incident. "The constitutional standard for use of force is that it must be objectively reasonable from the officer's perspective at the time of the incident," he explains. "So we had to find a way to get the camera up on the officer's head. Obviously, to get the officer to accept a headpiece, we had to give that officer something more than just a camera."
That's why TASER made the AXON both a recording system and a communications system. The push-to-talk functions of the AXON cradle work with most portable radios in use by law enforcement agencies, and the headset has a speaker so that the wearer can hear radio messages. Smith believes it will be easy for officers to accept a radio headset as standard operating equipment. "Many agencies are already migrating toward using an on-ear audio communication system for privacy reasons," he says.
TASER also sees AXON as kind of a remote control for TASER weapons, including its 12-gauge eXtended Range Electronic Projectile (XREP). "We are envisioning that the AXON network will become the control piece for future TASER-type devices and possibly other devices," says Smith. The AXON system has built-in radio frequency (RF) features. Smith says its RF range will be greater than Bluetooth devices. "We have selected a chip set that gives us three different bands that we can transmit on," he explains.
AXON's RF capability called TASER Communications (TACOM) is expected to be very important when TASER releases the second generation of the XREP. The first generation of the XREP is pretty much a fire-and-forget projectile. When it hits the target, it delivers a 20-second TASER charge, but it can't be reenergized to stun the suspect again.
That will change in the second generation and AXON will be a triggering device. "The second generation of the XREP will have an RF receiver," Smith explains. "So once you fire the projectile downrange if the suspect starts to get up again, you don't have to fire another round at him. Instead, you will be able to send a wireless triggering signal from the AXON system to reenergize the XREP."
AXON will also help officers create paperless incident reports. The system will let officers answer multiple choice questions on its 2.8-inch QVGA display and input data at the scene without going back to their in-car terminals or laptops. Interview notes and other information can also be dictated into the AXON for downloading in post processing.
"AXON will give police agencies the ability to focus their officers' energies on being police officers rather than report writers," Smith says. "With AXON they can assign the task of report writing to non-sworn personnel. These professionals, who are paid less than sworn personnel, can download audio-video files from the AXON system and generate reports. That means officers will spend more time on the street and less time doing paperwork."
Privacy and Protocol
The AXON computer can hold about eight hours of audio-video files, even more if the user loads a Micro-SD memory card into the device's flash memory slot. It also has a battery life of eight hours per charge.
Smith believes that eight hours will be plenty of capacity for covering the average officer's shift and even more. "Our expectation is that most agencies and police unions will not want to have officers record their entire work shift because of privacy concerns."
AXON's recording priorities are agency configurable, but most agencies will probably set up AXON like their in-car video systems with a continuous one-minute video loop. Such a configuration lets the camera record 60 seconds before an incident. Then when the officer hits the event button, he or she can capture audio and video of the entire incident. There will also be a privacy mode so that officers can take a break, eat lunch, go to the bathroom, etc., without producing a video record.
Smith says AXON is intended to help officers not keep track of them or invade their privacy. He explains that the primary purpose for AXON is to capture the events leading up to an incident and the actions taken by an officer in the field, to "protect truth," as the company's advertising campaign for the new product says, and protect the officer.
"We have developed a real core competence in understanding the needs of the law enforcement officer in terms of the force that they have to deploy and what they have to do afterward to document that force," Smith says. "AXON is not just an on-officer camera. It's integrated into the value chain of what the cop on the street needs to deploy force, record it, and defend it."
Like all computers, AXON will be upgraded as time goes on. TASER has a roadmap for features that it would like to develop in the future, but Smith says the company wants to assure early adopters that they will be able to upgrade their existing equipment at a fraction of the cost of purchasing new systems. The modular design of the AXON system will let TASER make upgrades primarily to the cradle, which Smith says will minimize an agency's cost of upgrading its AXON systems. "Buying a new cradle every other year or so will be much less expensive than buying an entire system," he says.
TASER says the AXON system is expected to sell for less than $1,000 per unit. It's expected to ship late this year or early next year.
Smith says the system has been demonstrated for a number of law enforcement administrators. "We've shown it to major city police chiefs, and they've kind of scratched their heads and asked, 'Why is TASER doing this?' But then when they see our total vision, we get some pretty positive feedback."
AUTONOMOUS EXTENDED ON-OFFICER NETWORK
Linux-based operating system
All-in-one imager, microphone, and radio speaker
Waterproof for all-weather use
High-resolution 2.8-inch video display
Expandable flash memory
RF connectivity for TASER weapon control
One-touch privacy mode allows officers to temporarily suspend video-audio recording
Push-to-talk microphone/speaker on cradle
Less than $1,000
Want FreeInfo? Visit Taser International online.
Below are the results of the August, 2008 POLICE Web Poll asking readers how they felt about wearing a video recording system.