Body cameras for police officers are controversial, but they have a lot of public support. So Taser is hoping to burnish its reputation with a name change to “Axon”, and by offering every police officer in America a free body camera. But this isn’t an altruistic move, or necessarily a net positive for better police accountability.
The deal itself is pretty straightforward. In addition to one camera per officer, Axon offers a year’s subscription to its digital footage storage locker, two camera mounts, a docking station to upload footage, and training materials. Axon clearly believes that every officer in America will be wired for video sooner rather than later, and since the systems are largely proprietary, long-term it’s hoping to lock in lucrative contracts.
But still, good deal, right? That depends on how the cameras are used. In July’s police shooting of Alton Sterling, which is under investigation by the Justice Department, the officers involved claimed their body cameras fell off. Furthermore, just because the footage is recorded doesn’t mean the public, investigators, or defense attorneys automatically have access to it, or that it won’t be deleted (whether by accident or design).
Furthermore, there’s the question of public surveillance. Some are concerned that facial recognition software paired with constantly active cameras could become an unrivaled surveillance network. In short, body cameras are possibly a good start, but there will need to be strong regulation to ensure they’re properly used.