At the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference last month, Axon demonstrated a new feature for its Evidence.com product that will make it easier for the public to send images and video files captured on smartphones at crime and accident scenes to law enforcement.
Steve Tuttle, VP of strategic communications for Axon, says the company developed the new feature called Axon Citizen at the request of its customers. "Public submission of digital evidence has been a tough problem for law enforcement to tackle," he says.
Axon Citizen was also designed to meet the needs of witnesses who want to help officers but don't currently have an easy way to do so. Tuttle says many people want to help police with their investigations but are hesitant to hand over their smartphones to officers.
They don't want to lose access to their phones while officers download the data, and they don't want to expose all the information on their phones to review. "That's a privacy issue, and the result is that a lot of evidence is being lost," Tuttle explains. "Axon Citizen is a painless way for the public to submit that invaluable evidence to police."
Axon Citizen will be available in two versions. One can be used as an interface between individual officers and witnesses who have evidentiary files on their devices. The other version is being developed for agencies that need to make community wide broadcasts soliciting video and photos.
Individual officers can use Axon Citizen to facilitate transfer of files from the phone of a witness or witnesses at a scene. The officer uses an Axon app to send a text that contains a special URL to the phone of each witness. To send the images or video to the department, all the witness has to do is click on the URL and submit the video or images, which go straight into the agency’s Evidence.com case file with the full audit trails and chain of custody as would an Axon body-worn video file. Tuttle says the community members can provide as little or as much contact information as they like. The witness also can caption the image or video to explain what he or she saw at the scene.
Axon Citizen's broadcast version will help officers solicit evidence from the public at large during Amber Alerts or after critical incidents such as active shooters. Tuttle says using Axon Citizen, agencies can provide a URL to the press and ask witnesses to upload pertinent video and images.
The broadcast version of Axon Citizen also has a special feature that will allow officers to screen out files that have no relevance to the case. This "Triage" feature will let officers quickly accept or reject files to be reviewed for evidence through metadata information such as where and when the image or video was captured. Tuttle says accepted evidence is added to the agency's main evidence pool while rejected data is stored in a junk folder.
Files sent by the public to agencies via Axon Citizen are imported directly into Evidence.com and automatically categorized. Evidence.com treats the Citizen files the same way it treats files captured by officers. "That means it's searchable, it's redactable, and it can be shared [with prosecutors and other authorized parties]," Tuttle says.
The individual officer version of Axon Citizen is now being rolled out in the U.S. at no incremental cost and no additional storage fees for Evidence.com Pro, Evidence.com Ultimate, and Evidence.com Unlimited subscribers. The community broadcast Axon Citizen tool will be available for an additional enterprise license based on the size of the agency and will be available next year.