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As body cameras gain more attention, their uses are expanding well beyond law enforcement

Geoff Baker, The Seattle Times on

Published in Science & Technology News

Weeks of protests in the wake of the killing of George Floyd have placed renewed attention on police body-worn cameras.

Axon and Motorola Solutions recently branched out to commercial sales even before Floyd's filmed killing in Minneapolis. Cellphone footage from bystanders put the case in the spotlight, but recordings from police body cameras are expected to be introduced at trial.

Businesses and municipal services large and small -- including fire departments, emergency medical technicians, private security firms, department stores and construction crews -- have turned increasingly to body-worn devices from a plethora of manufacturers to monitor employees for training, safety and behavioral purposes.

"Frankly, we've been really surprised at the level of interest in a broad number of different industry marketplaces that were not on our radar before," said Axon founder Rick Smith, whose 1,500 employees include 245 in a Seattle office that is the company's second biggest beyond its Scottsdale, Ariz., headquarters.

The idea of body cameras as a nonlethal safety tool to monitor police and modify behavior -- with the aim of reducing excessive force by officers and false complaints against them -- is also what's luring the business world.

Axon makes body cameras for the Seattle Police Department and the Minneapolis force, four of whom were charged in Floyd's killing in May. Within the past six months, it has started selling cameras to larger companies for "industrial use" purposes, one of the bigger ones a pharmaceutical firm where devices are being worn on a trial basis by employees at drug-testing facilities.

 

"It turns out that any time there is any concern that somebody didn't follow the right safety protocols, they have to scrap millions of dollars of medication," Smith said. "But they reported back to us that by having people that are working key processes wear body cameras, they are able to go back and check and verify whether or not a process was followed. They've already saved millions of dollars in stuff they didn't have to scrap."

Others include a company doing "large truckloads of deliveries" to grocery stores, using cameras to record the physical transfer of goods to reduce theft and loss. "There are times when a client would call up and say, 'Hey, we're one pallet short of some produce' or 'This produce is bad.' Well, now that they've got the video, they're able to go back and look."

While cameras like GoPro have made significant inroads among consumers -- sky divers, mountain climbers, cyclists and other outdoor enthusiasts -- Smith said his commercial clients want something different. The Axon Flex 2, Axon Body 2 and newer Body 3 cameras are less focused on color pixelation and cinematography than a GoPro, but better for evidence gathering given their 12-hour, full-police-shift battery life and delivery of accurate, non-erasable footage -- even in low light -- and crisp audio along with secure storage options.

The Body 3 offers livestreaming and can begin recording video automatically when a police weapon is drawn or emergency lights activated. It also offers remote map-tracking of the camera-wearer.

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