Taser International Inc. (TASR) is changing its image, veering in the direction of software business while changing its name to Axon, the title of its camera-making unit. The Scottsdale, Arizona-based firm also positioned itself as an implicit ally of advocates for police reform, when it announced Wednesday that it would offer body cameras to every American police officer free of charge for one year.
“We are going 'all-in' to empower police officers to more safely and effectively do their jobs and drive important social change by making body cameras available to every officer in America,” Rick Smith, Axon’s chief executive officer, said in a company press release. “We believe these cameras are more than just tools to protect communities and the officers who serve them. They also hold the potential to change police work as we know it, by seamlessly collecting an impartial record and reducing the need for endless paperwork.”
Three quarters of Axon’s $268.2 million in revenue still stemmed from the electric stun weapons for which the company—by its former name—has become known, Reuters reported, noting that the Axon entity’s software revenue came close to a quarter of the total. The company’s share price plummeted nearly 1 percent Wednesday morning, but appeared to bounce back slightly, rising to around $22 by the early afternoon.
Axon, which, according to the company site, has delivered more than 200,000 body cameras to security units worldwide, called the move toward “development of body cameras, cloud solutions and other technologies” a response to accommodate “the changing nature of police work," citing a Pew Research Center study highlighting the racial lines dividing Americans and police officers in their views of police violence.
In the wake of numerous police shootings of unarmed black men, such as Michael Brown in 2014 and Freddie Gray in 2015, many have called for increased accountability and transparency among the country’s police forces. The Justice Department under former President Barack Obama channeled $23 million toward a pilot program providing law enforcement agencies in 32 states with body cameras and related training.
The shift may be good news not only to advocates for the use of body cameras, but to those who’d like police to move away from triggering Tasers as well. As the Washington Post found in a November 2015 report, their excessive or improper use could prove dangerous, and were likely related to dozens of deaths involving the weapons that year. According to Axon’s site, of 1,201 Taser uses, only 2.25 percent resulted in serious injury.