New York (CNN)The year 2020 has been a pivotal one for the police body camera industry in the aftermath of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor’s killings at the hands of current and former officers in Minneapolis and Louisville.
Both cities had previously purchased body cams for their officers from Axon, the nation’s largest provider of law enforcement body-worn cameras, according to industry analysts. But Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said Taylor’s killing in March wasn’t captured on body cam video because the officers at the scene didn’t turn on their body cameras.The alleged body cam mishap could have been avoided if the officers on scene were wearing Axon’s latest body cam model, the Axon Body 3, which went on sale in September 2019. Unlike it’s predecessors, Axon Vice President of Communications Sydney Siegmeth says the Body 3 cam automatically activates when officers draw their firearms or Tasers. The cam also live streams footage for police supervisors to review and react to in real time.The Axon Body 3″A supervisor knows if a Taser or a gun is drawn and will get an automatic alert and can look through that live stream,” Siegmeth told CNN Business. “It provides you with a map so you can see where your officers are.” Since 2014, Axon’s body cam fortunes have risen in conjunction with the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, largely fueled by demands for increased police accountability after a series of high profile police killings of civilians, including Eric Garner and Mike Brown.Read MoreTo date, Axon (AAXN) confirms it has contracts with 49 of 79 major cities in North America, including some in Canada and Mexico. Competitors Motorola, Panasonic, Samsung, L3, Getac and China’s Shenzhen combined have less US market share than Axon, according to industry analyst Scott Berg, managing director at the financial firm Needham & Company.Axon’s stock price surged 20% following Floyd’s death on Memorial Day. It experienced a similar spike this week as the nation grappled with the eventual non-indictment of the Louisville officers who shot Taylor. Both Floyd and Taylor’s deaths, the company says, have compelled it to improve the way it does business.Rebuilding trustAxon CEO Rick SmithFour years ago, Axon says its biggest challenge was convincing wary police departments and unions that wearing body cams would help them do their jobs better. Since then, police body cams have become a vital tool for departments across the country, but have also been the subject of controversy when police withhold body cam footage or neglect to turn their cameras on in high-profile cases.As a result, the company’s challenge following the deaths of Taylor and Floyd has been convincing police reform advocates that body cams improve officer accountability.”After the George Floyd tragedy, we did a lot of self reflection as a company,” Siegmeth said. “One of the things we determined was we need to do better working with communities, not just police.”In July, Axon hired Regina Holloway, a former defense attorney with a background in police-community relations, to serve as its Vice President of Community Impact. Since then, Holloway said she and Axon CEO Rick Smith have been hosting virtual meetings with community leaders in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and Los Angeles to discuss ways their company can improve police transparency and accountability.The meetings are part of a planned nationwide campaign for Axon. Since Floyd’s death, Siegmeth said Smith has also participated in more than 100 roundtable discussions with community and law enforcement groups to find out how they’d like the company to change its technology going forward. The results from these efforts, Axon says, will be unveiled in late October.Holloway said part of her role is to help bridge the divide between police and grassroots activists and assure grassroots activists that body cams cams can solve some of the problems with police accountability.”It’s not about the community bending to the will of police,” Holloway told CNN Business. “It’s about us being partners in public safety. We’re trying to bring this collective equal footing to policing.”A growing marketPhoenix Police Department Sgt. Kevin Johnson demonstrates the new Axon Body 2 body camera to fellow officers as another precinct gets their cameras assigned to them on July 3, 2019, in Phoenix.Body cameras may be commonly used by police in most major US cities today, but the industry still has potential for major growth, according to Berg, the industry analyst. The police body cam industry was valued at $443 million in 2018 and is expected to reach $1.5 billion by 2025, according to the Market Research Future analyst firm.After Floyd’s death, nationwide protests and civil unrest led to numerous additional skirmishes between police and demonstrators. In June, 75-year-old Martin Gugino was critically injured during a police brutality protest in support of George Floyd after an officer shoved him to the ground, causing him to bust his head open on the concrete. That and other incidents have led to the dismissal of multiple city police chiefs.Throughout the ongoing uproar, Axon says police departments across the country have increased their interest in its latest body cam model.”We definitely heard from a lot of customers interested in hearing more about the new body camera with the live streaming,” Siegmeth said.Berg points out most major city police departments, like Louisville’s, still don’t require all their officers to wear body cams and most smaller cities and suburbs throughout the country still don’t have body cam programs at all. He estimates that half of the nation’s patrol officers still aren’t wearing body cameras and says hedge fund investors have been bullish on the industry as a result.”Adoption is going to grow at a very fast rate,” Berg told CNN Business. “There’s a significant amount of focus to bring this transparency to these communities that don’t have them in general.”
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