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Axon body camera
The Axon body camera is part of a technology system aimed at improving policing. (Via Axon)

The Seattle Police Department has chosen Axon, a unit of Taser International, as its supplier of body-worn video cameras and a cloud-based digital evidence management platform called Evidence.com, the Seattle-based company announced on Monday.

As the largest municipal law enforcement agency in Washington State, an estimated 850 officers could be impacted by the new technology, with initial deployment of cameras expected to start next month.

Seattle is the 35th major city to select Axon’s platform. In July, the company landed a $28 million contract to outfit the Los Angeles Police Department, which has a total of 9,843 officers and 2,773 civilian staff.

Evidence.com
Evidence.com provides officers a more efficient, straightforward and secure process for storing, managing, and sharing digital evidence, Axon says. (Via Axon)

While final contract details are still being negotiated, SPD was awarded a $600,000 grant by the Department of Justice in September 2015 to implement an expanded body-worn camera program. SPD spent six months testing Axon’s technology against five competitors, and in a final round of scoring, the Axon platform received the highest marks, scoring nearly double the points against two competing body camera vendors.

Axon and Taser
Taser founder Rick Smith, right, and Axon general manager Marcus Womack in Seattle last fall.

“We are honored to have been selected by Seattle PD after an extensive review and field trial program,” Taser CEO and co-founder Rick Smith said in a statement. “We believe wearable cameras coupled with the power of Evidence.com will help accelerate the city’s bold move toward smarter, more transparent policing. We’re thrilled to be working with Seattle PD as it adopts our new technology.”

The use of body cameras is highly touted as an effective means of improving community policing by capturing crucial evidence in the field.

Last year, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray called the DOJ grant a “huge boost” to SPD’s efforts to strengthen accountability.

“We know body cameras reduce the number of complaints against officers and reduce the use of force by police,” Murray said. “I am proud of Seattle’s continued leadership as a national model for police reform.”

A division of the smart-weapon maker Taser, Axon opened its much-celebrated and futuristic Seattle office in the fall of 2015. The company now employs 95 people and has 30 open positions. It has employed creative measures in an effort to recruit potential engineers in Seattle, saying that writing code at Axon actually saves lives.

“We’re not doing happy, fun things with technology — we are going into dark corners of society where bad things happen and making it better,” Smith said last year.

Hadi Partovi is a technology entrepreneur who is on the board of Taser. Two years ago, he joined GeekWire for a podcast episode in which he and Axon GM Marcus Womack discussed accountability and transparency in everyday interactions between police and the public. On Monday, Partovi was pleased to see SPD choose Axon.

“Each time I read about another police shooting, my heart sinks, wondering what can be done to help,” Partovi said. “While bodycams aren’t a cure-all, they’re a great example of how technology can help address one of the top societal issues of our time. I’m delighted to see Seattle PD embracing cameras, and I’m especially proud that it’s a team in our own backyard that’s building this technology for the entire country.”

The technology is not without controversy. Questions about the impact of video cameras on privacy have been raised and an April 2015 New York Times story highlighted SPD for its policy of uploading footage to a YouTube channel. The concern is whether the public has a right to see footage of, for example, a domestic violence victim, on the internet, or whether access to footage should be limited to only those involved in encounters with police.

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