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Taser-maker offers U.S. police free body camera for a year

"We are going 'all-in' to empower police officers," company founder Rick W. Smith said Wednesday.

By Allen Cone
Taser-maker offers U.S. police free body camera for a year
A Cleveland Police Department officer patrols downtown with an Axon body camera mounted on his chest. Taser International announced Wednesday that it had changed its name to Axon and will provide body cameras to all U.S. police officers for one year. File Photo by Mike Theiler/UPI | License Photo

April 5 (UPI) -- Taser International, which is known for the stun gun by its name, announced Wednesday it is changing the company's name to Axon Enterprises Inc. and offering free body cameras to every police officer in the United States for one year.

Rather than being named after the electronic devices that shock offenders, the company now is named after the cameras it produces.

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"The Taser name has become synonymous with iconic, less-lethal weapons, and we're very proud of that," the company said in a news release. "We're changing our name to reflect the evolution of our company from a weapons manufacturer to a full solutions provider of cloud and mobile software, connected devices, wearable cameras, and now artificial intelligence -- all of which falls under the Axon brand. Taser will remain one of our flagship products, but now as a single focused product brand for our suite of smart weapons."

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And that means offering body cameras to all officers, along with online data storage, training and support for a year.

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"We are going 'all-in' to empower police officers to more safely and effectively do their jobs and drive important social change by making body cameras available to every officer in America," Rick W. Smith, founder and CEO of Axon, said in a statement. "We believe these cameras are more than just tools to protect communities and the officers who serve them. They also hold the potential to change police work as we know it, by seamlessly collecting an impartial record and reducing the need for endless paperwork."

When the trial period ends, police departments would send back the cameras or buy them.

"We think taking a body camera from an agency that's been using it for a year would be like taking my daughter's iPhone away six months after she got it," Smith said during a news conference.

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The devices are used by more than 18,000 law enforcement agencies in more than 100 countries, and they also have saved more than 180,000 people from death or serious injury, the company said.

In 2016, body cameras captured 138 of 963 U.S. shootings, according to the The Washington Post's database.

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In September in Charlotte, the death of Keith Scott was recorded by a body camera. Axon and Vievu are the dominant manufacturers of the cameras, among 60 companies.

The bulk of the company's sales, however, come from Taser devices and cartridges, which accounted for $202 million last year, according to its financial filing. Another $65 million came from Axon-related cameras and Evidence.com, which allows for storage of footage and other data.

Smith worked with the inventor of the Taser, NASA researcher Jack Cover, to change it so that the darts are fired via compressed air rather than gunpowder, and he formed air Taser Inc, in 1993. Cover patented the design for a device in 1974.

Cover said the letters in Taser stand for Thomas A. Swift's Electric Rifle from the book Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle.

The word has become so synonymous with shooting a stun gun that "tased" is now often used as a verb.

The new ticker symbol "AAXN" will become effective upon the opening of the Nasdaq market Thursday.

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