The big police tech news this month was TASER’s new Axon Flex body-worn video recorder. This is an expanding market, as more agencies see the wisdom of moving the dash-mounted patrol car cameras to the officer him/herself. Patrol car cameras have certainly proven their worth, although not everything they’re recorded reflected well on law enforcement. They’ve captured some incredibly courageous performances by law enforcement officers as well as some incidents we would all rather forget. The bottom line is the camera doesn’t lie, and we’re in a game where evidence collection has always been important.
Default mounting for the Axon Flex is on a pair of Oakley Flak Jacket wraparound eyeglasses that are probably a good idea, even if you have perfect vision. Clear lenses protect your eyes from dust and projectiles, and they can be quickly switched out with dark lenses for bright light environments. The camera module will also mount on a uniform epaulet, headband, collar or several other platforms. The camera module, about the size of a felt-tip marker, is connected to a wallet-size controller module that is carried on a belt or clipped to clothing. The recording device, onboard memory and most of the processing gear resides on the camera module. The controller has the operating buttons and the power supply. There is a small battery on the camera module itself, which provides for orderly shutdown if the external battery dies or is disconnected. This prevents loss of any recorded material/data.
A major development with the Axon Flex is what the dash-cam industry calls “pre-event recording.” In pre-event standby mode, the camera is always on, recording to a memory buffer with a capacity between ten seconds and two minutes. When the recorder is activated, the pre-event buffer is appended to the start of the recording. This provides for capturing incidents that started before you could push the “record” button. This is a huge plus, as we seldom know about significant incidents until we are all but immersed in them.
The Axon Flex also dispenses with the need to have a dedicated video screen by displaying the recorder output on an Android or iPhone display via a wireless Bluetooth connection. That saves bulk and battery drain on the camera setup. The video files can be viewed on a Smartphone, but can’t be edited or deleted. Everything remains on the recorder module until the video is uploaded to a server, usually at the station. Where the previous Axon model required using TASER’s cloud-based video storage called EVIDENCE.com, this one has an option to maintain video files locally. That was a dealbreaker for some agencies that didn’t want their video leaving the agency until they were ready to release it.
TASER is offering the EVIDENCE.com service for free for the first year, and will work with agencies for costs of video storage after that. Storage and indexing of this video is no small concern. You might not have to stack VHS cassettes anymore, but the output from those cameras is going to consume some serious hard drive space. There is about 4GB of memory on the Axon Flex available for video storage, which represents roughly four hours of video.
If you have five cops on each of three shifts, that’s 4GB x 5 x 3 = 60GB per day. A three-terabyte hard drive, which is about the biggest one you can buy right now, will get you through about seven weeks. How long do you have to keep that video around? Somewhere between 30 days and forever, depending on whom you ask.
The devices are selling for around $1,000 each, which is big price drop from the previous model. It’s still more than several competing body-cam recorders, but this one arguably includes some bells and whistles the others don’t. Just don’t forget to allow for that video archiving problem, lest you find yourself painted into a corner.