with Lindsey J. Bertomen
TASER enters the data (business)
Earlier this month, TASER INTERNATIONAL Chief Executive Officer, Director, and Co-founder Rick Smith used a “webinar” to announce a unique family of solutions for law enforcement.
As I sat at my computer to watch the presentation, which was broadcast live on the Web from TASER’s Scottsdale, Arizona headquarters, I was expecting the product launch to simply be an improvement of the new TASER AXON, a “networkable” audio and video evidence capturing product.
Instead, Smith introduced the integration of the AXON to Evidence.com, an advanced evidence integration system that can provide any agency with real-time incident reporting, case file access, as well as management and redundant data integration that can render dimensional and statistical integration in incident reporting.
Not long into Smith’s presentation I was at a total loss for words to describe a product that can impact resource allocation, officer safety, case file tracking, training and supervision and policing as we know it. I thought: “How will I describe such a product in the report that PoliceOne had asked me to do?”
Then it occurred to me: It is not a product, it is a system.
Has TASER gotten itself into the data business? You bet, and in a big way.
During the presentation, Smith gave an overview of TASER’s mission, Protect Life, by outlining their three key approaches: Creating new safer tools for responding to resistance, creating technology to deter misuse through enhanced accountability and creating technologies that deter violent behavior. With these approaches, he described the various TASER products which have accomplished these goals.
Smith said, “It’s a huge step forward to safely end a violent confrontation but it’s even better if we can prevent it from occurring in the first place.” Citing a 63 percent drop in officer injuries from agencies who tracked TASER X26 use and an improved safety for the community, TASER ’s innovations have consistently improved officer safety.
This product launch was designed as a complete solution, which begins at the streets, continues with the evidence gathering at the scene, followed by command review of the incident the presentation of evidence in court.
At the heart of the system is the AXON an advanced evidence gathering component—a stand alone computer worn by an officer. This tactical computer combines an audio-video earpiece imager/speaker and was designed to hook into existing radio products. The camera and audio capture is done from head level, thus from the immediate perspective of the officer. Thus, what the officer hears and sees can be reviewed by a third party.
The camera is color, low light and IR capable. I can already see the advantage here. In limited light, an officer can do a quick scan by reviewing real time on the monitor. There are several mounting options, including over-the-ear.
Foremost in the design of the TASER AXON is the fact that agencies which have fallen victim to the scrutiny of the cell phone camera will have some recourse with this product. As Smith put it, “With Axon, we come as close as humanly possible to the officer’s perspective.” Smith went on to point out that the reasonable officer standard can be communicated better by the AXON’s perspective.
Smith also pointed out the fact that public cell phone videos only will depict the incident after it escalates, not whatever led up to the escalation. The AXON has a recording buffer that begins recording prior to the event, which the officer can tag for recording. The agency can set the length of elapsed time that the video can “grab” prior to the event. The officer also has a “privacy” button that gives a visual display when it is activated so the officer (and other officers around him) knows he is in privacy mode.
At the heart of the Axon is the ATC or Axon Tactical Computer, a Linux based controller that manages the video compression and storage. The ATC is water resistant, has an LCD display and can operate for about 10 hours. The Com Hub integrates the radio, ATC and the push-to-talk.
At the end of the shift, officers plug the entire ATC into the Evidence Tracking Unit, which downloads the stored information. When Rick Smith told us this, he asked the same rhetorical question that came from my cynical mind: What are you going to do with all of the stored data?
Rick Smith is a self admitted technology geek. So am I. When I heard the magic words, I knew what was coming next. The magic words: “We realized what officers really need is an end-to-end solution.”
Smith said that TASER INTERNATIONAL is essentially a hardware company that needed a software solution. Their strategic decision was to find the best means to integrate software with hardware and all the other tasks that go with it in order to make the data usable.
TASER needed to build a world class software development system. They first “found” Jas Dhillon and organized TASER Virtual Systems. Dhillon was a CEO of two organizations before he was the head of Business Development and Merger and Acquisition for Microsoft Office Live. In the technology business, this is a trump card on a resume.
Dhillon has been joined by Christopher Van Vleit of KallOut Inc, the in-text search engine software company, and Jason Droege, formerly of Gizmo5, a successful VoIP company. Obviously, TASER Virtual Systems set out to assemble the “Dream Team” of software engineering and management.
The software part is the way the evidence is compressed, handled and accessed by the Axon and other products and how it is integrated (we’ll get to that) into police work.
Let’s go back to the ATC getting plugged into the Evidence Tracking Unit. The data gets uploaded into a 128 bit encrypted system that includes system redundancy. This is geo dispersed (not in the same location) data storage “Untouched by human hands.” Data access is through Evidence.com, where there are various levels of encrypted access of data, available 24/7/365 in an “always on” mode.
The actual bits and bytes will be hosted by a third party. This will give them the ability to expand with the needs of the industry and is more court defensible than any agency videotape locker.
Data access to the agency is where things begin to get even more interesting—an administrator can view video integrated into a mapping system from the officer’s perspective real time. Agencies can share encrypted data. The possibilities are endless, including the ability for an administrator or other remote user to view a video from the officer’s perspective. Personal video and evidence capture is about as close to this perspective as one can get without tapping into the officers eyeballs.
Let’s take this a step further. With the data categorized as it is created, the administrator can have a multidimensional display with geotagging. Using this system, the administrator can review incidents, accessed by clicking on a three dimensional, multilayered rendering of a, including a full case file access. Reviewing “hot spots” from the latest shift, from each officer’s perspective is a complete (and dizzying) paradigm shift. Smith demonstrated this rendering, which beat anything Hollywood generates for the silver screen.
Smith promised that flash renderings of the videos will be available immediately and full versions will have a specific priority.
With the promised access hierarchy, allied agencies can share and collaborate information faster and respond from a multi-agency command center more efficiently. Additionally, the system can integrate with “old” technology like the TASER CAM.
How complete is the system? Imagine storing videotape evidence for an average sized agency over several years. Most administrators who have been in the business do not need to imagine the big closet in the records area or crowding the investigations bureau. Rather, evidence.com is simply a user interface, designed for turnkey storage and access, including an easily documented chain of custody.
Like most in the policing management and data management industry, I am completely floored.
What’s next, teleportation? Mind-reading?