After two recent failed bids, in New York and Phoenix, the company was accused of unfairly trying to influence those police departments with offers of “free” cameras.
Vievu, a smaller competitor owned by the police supplier Safariland, said in a statement that the free camera effort was a publicity stunt that “is at best unethical and at worst illegal.” Along with the heavy internal expense of using cameras, the company warned of lock-in: that using Axon’s software for a year will effectively force police to commit to its services for the longterm, “or face exorbitant switching costs.”John Collins, a Vievu spokesperson, said the offer is “analogous to asking someone to get a free tattoo on his or her face—you’d better be sure you want it because it is very difficult to get rid of it once you do.”Smith has dismissed some of the allegations against Axon as “a little bit of noise that comes with being a market leader,” but says that to avoid conflicts, it will not offer free cameras to law enforcement agencies with whom it’s already pursuing business.
Axon’s offer is also likely to draw more scrutiny to its sometimes dubious efforts to win police contracts.
Other companies have accused it of trying to muscle out the competition by building cozy relationships with cops, waging aggressive lobbying campaigns, and using allegedly unfair tactics.
Axon’s pitch to police departments is often more high-tech than the typical argument made for cameras—that they help improve transparency and trust between police and communities.
Instead, Smith’s company sells the cameras and as part of a complete package aimed at storing and managing police data—devices and platforms—in a way that mirrors Apple’s products and operating system.
While agencies will be allowed to keep their footage after the free trial, Axon is betting they’ll become loyal customers and subscribers.
“We’re taking a pretty big financial risk,” says the CEO, but “we looked at this and we frankly feel that the benefits are so overwhelming.
Body camera footage might also help defuse citizen anger after a deadly incident involving a cop if police departments make available to the public the video recording of what happened.Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, which has studied the impacts of body cameras, said that if departments accept this offer, “they must develop and implement body camera policies that uphold accountability and protect the rights of those being recorded.”The fierce competition and thorny questions underscore the national rush to adopt the technology in the wake of a series of high-profile deaths, many of unarmed black men, at the hands of police.Bolstered by over million in Justice Department grants during the Obama administration, the push has been called by some police experts the fastest upgrade in policing tech they’d ever seen.The name change, years in the making, reflects the company’s determination to focus on technology and distinguish it from the stun gun for which it is widely and controversially known.“We have 95% brand awareness,” says Smith, but “Taser is very strongly associated with the electronic weapon.” Though the gun generally gets high marks from law enforcement, it has generated plenty of controversy since many people shot by the “less-lethal” weapon have died or been severely injured.