|TASER International, Inc.|
|Industry||small arms industry|
|Headquarters||Scottsdale, Arizona, U.S.|
|Patrick W. Smith, co-founder, CEO. Thomas P. Smith, co-founder. Doug Klint, president and General Counsel.|
|Products||Body worn cameras, digital evidence management, Electroshock weapons|
|Revenue||$343.8 million USD (2017)|
Number of employees
Its initial product and former namesake is Taser, a line of electroshock weapons. The company has since diversified into technology products for law enforcement, including a line of body cameras and Evidence.com, a cloud-based digital evidence platform. As of 2017, body cameras and associated services comprise a quarter of Axon's overall business.
In 1969, NASA researcher Jack Cover began to develop a non-lethal electric weapon to help police officers control suspects, as an alternative to firearms. By 1974, Cover had completed the device, which he named the "Tom Swift Electric Rifle" (TASER), referencing the 1911 novel Tom Swift and his Electric Rifle. To make it easier to pronounce as a word, Cover later added an "A" to the acronym to form "TASER". The Taser Public Defender used gunpowder as its propellant, which led the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to classify it as a firearm in 1976, a decision that limited sales. In 1980, the Los Angeles Police Department conducted a successful field test of an improved version (having reconsidered its earlier rejections of the technology after the shooting of Eula Love), but the device remained commercially unsuccessful and Cover's company, Taser Systems Inc., collapsed.
In 1991, Rick and Tom Smith formed AIR TASER, Inc. to, with Cover, design a version of the device that would use compressed nitrogen instead of gunpowder as a propellant. The pursuit began after two of Rick's former high school acquaintances had been murdered in a road rage incident in Scottsdale. During development, the company faced competition from another vendor, Tasertron, whose product had become associated with its alleged ineffectiveness during the police confrontation of Rodney King.
After nearly going bankrupt marketing other products such as an electroshock-based anti-theft system for automobiles known as "Auto Taser", the company, later renamed TASER International, introduced its TASER M26 weapon in 1999. With a $6.8 million deficit in 2001, TASER International took steps to improve sales by offering to pay police officers to train others on how to use their products; this marketing technique helped improve the company's market share, reaching $24.5 million in net sales by 2003, and nearly $68 million in 2004. In May 2001, they filed for an initial public offering and began trading on NASDAQ under the stock symbol TASR.
The company also took significant action against competitors, having acquired the aforementioned Tasertron, and aggressively defending its patents. Patent lawsuits by TASER International led to the shutdown of both Stinger Systems and its successor company, Karbon Arms; both companies were founded by Robert Gruder. Despite the controversies that have centered around the products (including deaths attributed to taser usage), the company maintained its dominant market position.
In 2005, TASER International began to offer an accessory for its taser products, TASER Cam, which adds a grip-mounted camera that is activated after the safety is disengaged, to its battery pack. By October 2010, at least 45,000 TASER Cams had been sold.
In 2008, the company unveiled its first body camera, the Axon Pro. It was designed to be head-mounted, and upload footage for online storage on a web-based service known as Evidence.com. TASER's CEO Rick Smith explained that the products were designed to "help provide revolutionary digital evidence collection, storage and retrieval for law enforcement". The company piloted Axon Pro in various small cities and towns. In 2009, after prosecutor Daniel Shue exonerated Fort Smith police officer Brandon Davis based on footage from an Axon Pro camera, both Davis and Shue began to provide testimonials for the product in its marketing.
Especially in the wake of the Michael Brown shooting, the company's body camera business saw significant growth. Smith argued that the company was "not just about weapons, but about providing transparency and solving related data problems." In April 2013, the Rialto Police Department released the results of a 12-month study on the impact of on-officer video using Axon Flex cameras. The study found an 88% drop in complaints filed against officers and nearly a 60% reduction in officer use-of-force incidents.
TASER opened an office in Seattle in 2013, and an international office in Amsterdam, Netherlands in May 2014. In June 2015, the company announced the formation of a new Seattle-based division known as Axon, which would encompass the company's technology businesses, including body cameras, digital evidence management, and analytics. Rick Smith explained that the branch was inspired by Microsoft's use of the Xbox brand to branch into entertainment businesses, stating that "Axon was the name that we used for selling cameras historically, but we realized that brand had the room to grow and encompass all of our connected technologies." The Taser brand would still be used for the company's weapons products.
On April 5, 2017, TASER announced that it had rebranded as Axon to reflect its expanded business. The company also announced an intent to offer free one-year trials of its body camera products and Evidence.com services to U.S. law enforcement agencies. While the Taser product line still contributes to a significant portion of its revenue, the company's technologies business had seen major gains. As of 2017, they comprised a quarter of the company's business, while Axon cameras had a market share of 85% among police departments in the United States' major cities. The rebranding was also intended to help distance the company from the negative stigma surrounding the Taser brand, with Smith acknowledging that they were "a bit of a distraction" when recruiting employees for its technology business.
In May 2018, Axon acquired competitor VieVu for $4.6 million in cash and $2.5 million in common stock.
There are two law enforcement models currently available:
Taser's original body-worn camera, the Axon Pro, was introduced in 2009. The camera consists of three components, a head-mounted camera, a controller, and a monitor to review video recordings.
The second generation of Axon body cameras were simpler in form and function than the Axon Pro, removing the bulky monitor in favor of pairing with mobile phones. Many of the features introduced in these cameras, such as the pre-event buffer, a method of capturing video from before the record button was pressed, have become common requirements in body-worn camera requests for proposal. The Axon Flex and Body only record video in standard definition (SD).
In addition to body-worn cameras, Axon also offers interview room and in-car video systems, known as Axon Interview and Axon Fleet respectively. These systems, like the body cameras, integrate with the Evidence.com service.
Evidence.com is a cloud-based digital evidence management system that allows police departments to manage, review, and share digital evidence, particularly video evidence captured with Axon-branded cameras. It includes an automated redaction tool, audit trails for chain of custody purposes, and functionality to share evidence with prosecutors and others. A free version is offered specifically for prosecutors to receive and manage incoming digital evidence.
Evidence Sync is a desktop application that allows law enforcement officers to review and upload evidence from hardware devices and local files. It is also used to upload logs from Taser weapons to Evidence.com. Although primarily intended to work with Evidence.com, it can also be used in offline mode to directly access files, if the agency prefers.
Two mobile apps integrate with the Axon cameras and Evidence.com. Axon View can be paired with an Axon body camera to review, tag, and stream videos from the camera. The app can give an officer instant replay and on the spot evidence. This evidence can be crucial for officers and prosecutors. A new feature they added was GPS tagging. Officers can automatically map video evidence with real-time tagging of metadata. Axon Capture is an app that can be used to capture audio, photo, and video evidence and upload it to Evidence.com using an officer's mobile phone.
Axon Signal is a range of products that are designed to automatically trigger recordings on Axon cameras in response to certain events, such as Signal Vehicle (which can trigger after the opening of doors or activation of sirens), Signal Performance Power Magazine (a successor to the TASER Cam accessory that triggers recordings when an Taser is armed), and Signal Sidearm (a sensor for handgun holsters which triggers recording when the gun is removed).
The company has noted that it has lost two product liability lawsuits:
This lawsuit represents the fifty-ninth (59th) wrongful death or injury lawsuit that has been dismissed or judgment entered in favor of TASER International. This number includes a small number of police officer training injury lawsuits that were settled and dismissed in cases where the settlement economics to TASER International were significantly less than the cost of litigation. One of these cases is that on Feb. 15, 2006, one officer Officer accidentally discharged TASER device on his daughter. TASER International has lost two product liability lawsuits.
In 2007, Polish immigrant Robert Dzieka?ski died in custody at the Vancouver International Airport after Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officers used a Taser on him multiple times. A provincial inquiry found the use to be unjustified, and in 2013, the British Columbia Coroners Service ruled the death to be a homicide--citing a heart attack caused by the repeated jolts as cause of death. The incident provoked discussion and inquiries into the appropriateness of Taser use in law enforcement in Canada.
In 2015, it was discovered that several TASER International employees, without mentioning their employment status, had review bombed listings on Amazon.com and iTunes Store for Killing Them Safely, a documentary film by Nick Berardini which documented and investigated major incidents that resulted from taser usage.
In January 2016, TASER International was sued by Digital Ally for infringing its two U.S. patents on the automatic activation of law enforcement body cameras. TASER International considered the suit to be "frivolous and egregious".
Axon also revealed how much it paid to acquire Seattle-based VieVu, which provides body-worn cameras and video technology to the police, from Safariland Group. Axon bought VieVu May 4, ending dueling lawsuits within Maricopa County Superior Court. Axon paid $4.6 million in cash and $2.5 million in common stock issued to Safariland. The deal also includes consideration of up to 141,000 shares of common stock contingent that Axon achieves certain milestones over the next two years. There is also a minimum holster purchase requirement from Safariland.