Formerly Taser International, Axon is embroiled in a heated battle with rival Seattle company Vievu to provide body cameras to law-enforcement agencies around the country.
Axon is offering to give U.S. police departments a free body camera for all their officers, along with accompanying software, for a year.
The trial offer was announced Wednesday as Taser International, which has used the Axon brand name for its growing Seattle-based body-camera business, changes its corporate name to Axon, which will encompass the Taser weapon business as well as body-camera hardware and software.
Axon is embroiled in a heated battle with rival Seattle company Vievu to provide body cameras to law-enforcement agencies around the country. Vievu ripped into Axon’s trial-offer plan in a Wednesday afternoon statement, calling it “at best unethical and at worst illegal.”
Axon said 41 of 69 major U.S. cities are using, or have decided to use, body-camera technology — and 36 have chosen Axon.
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The Seattle Police Department decided in November to purchase body cameras from the Taser unit for 850 officers. Deployment of the technology locally has stalled as a federal judge decides if officers should be able to watch camera footage before writing reports.
With that market share, it wouldn’t seem like Axon needs to offer free trials of its cameras to attract new customers.
But the lengthy process that often comes with contracts with public agencies and a desire to reach more departments, quicker, is driving Axon.
The body-camera division, based in downtown Seattle, will give access to its Evidence.com data-storage software and Axon Body 2 camera along with mounts and docks to officers from police departments that take it up on its offer.
The trial is being offered to new customers and existing users who might not have cameras and software for all their police officers.
There are a few exceptions to the deal. Police officers cannot independently obtain the cameras; it must be an official request from a department.
And Axon’s free trial offer is not valid for departments that have requested, and are assessing, body-camera proposals from providers, because during that period Axon isn’t allowed to have much communication with the agency.
Vievu criticized Axon’s trial offer, saying that its competitor is sidestepping rules from public agencies and trapping customers into using its technology.
Police departments will be left at the end of the year with data they can no longer use, essentially forcing them to sign a deal with Axon, Vievu said.
“Taser’s tactic 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,” Vievu spokesman John Collins said in the statement.
Axon has said the police departments that participate will own the data and be able to keep it at the end of the trial.
The free trials are going to be costly for Axon: anywhere from $5 million to $100 million, depending on how many police departments take part, said CEO Rick Smith.
He’s convinced it’ll be worth it. Once departments see the impact of the technology, he said, he’s confident they’ll sign deals with Axon to continue using the camera systems.
“For every dollar that we spend to put this out in the hand of customers, we see several dollars in long-term opportunity when they get to the end of the year” of free service, he said.
Based on Axon’s experience so far, Smith said, the company expects about 80 percent of the police departments to keep using its cameras after a year, but the numbers work out favorably if only 25 to 30 percent renew.
In a news release announcing the free offer, Axon called on its competitors to join it in offering free services for a year.
Axon’s body-camera division is growing rapidly. It brought in $65.6 million in net sales in 2016, up 85 percent from 2015.
The Taser weapons segment is much larger, at $202.6 million, but is not growing as quickly, with a 25 percent gain last year. Tasers are gunlike devices that stun and temporarily incapacitate a person.
Explaining the name change for the Arizona-based company, CEO Rick Smith said Taser has great brand awareness, but the brand can also eclipse the other things — like body cameras — that the company provides.
He said he found himself explaining, again and again, to prospective customers that Taser makes more than electrical weapons.
The Axon name comes from a term referring to nerve fibers that communicate with neurons and connect nerve cells in the body. The idea of connection relates to Axon’s products, including its software and analytics information that go along with its hardware.
“We really pivoted to this idea of a connected device ecosystem,” Smith said.
Axon plans to hire 80 people in Seattle in the next year, adding to the 110 employees here. Many will work on Axon’s expanding artificial intelligence technology, which the company hopes will one day significantly reduce the paperwork officers have to complete.