Axon, the largest supplier of body-worn cameras for police in the U.S., on Tuesday rolled out 1,000 new cameras for the Cincinnati Police Department that have livestreaming capability. This will enable officers on the street to show dispatchers or commanders a crisis situation in real time and allow rescuers to find an officer who is down or lost.
The system will automatically activate the camera as soon as a gun is drawn, a shot is heard or a Taser is powered on.
The cameras will not have facial-recognition capability, Axon founder and CEO Rick Smith said, and access to both the livestreamed video and the archived footage will be tightly controlled. To solve the problem of massive amounts of data piling up, the footage will be stored in a computing cloud maintained by Axon and Microsoft, Smith said.
The software accompanying the cameras will enable officers to receive transcripts of the audio in the footage, and the cameras will film in 1080p, greatly improving the quality of still images often used by police in investigations.
Police officers are typically the first on the scene of a crime in progress or a structural collapse. "To have the ability to access that camera in real time, and livestream what the officer is seeing, that's amazing," said Lt. Stephen Saunders of the Cincinnati police. "That will be a tactical advantage in high-stress situations like an active shooter. Or maybe the officer can't get to their radio. The dispatch center can access it [the camera] and see what's going on there. That's a game changer."
Though use of bodycams has spread widely among police agencies in recent years, both as a means of improving transparency and also for documenting potentially controversial encounters, suspicions that they may be used for more aggressive police monitoring linger.
"The centralized livestreaming of body cameras would instantly supercharge the surveillance powers of the authorities," the American Civil Liberties Union's Jay Stanley wrote in 2016. "It raises the prospect of abuse and will create significant chilling effects."
But Smith said he does not want to create the conditions for "creepy surveillance stuff."
Besides securing the cloud and expecting that police departments will tightly limit access to live and archived footage, Smith created an AI and Policing Technology Ethics Board to review Axon's proposed uses of artificial intelligence and new technology.
Among the members are Barry Friedman, a New York University law professor and founder of the Policing Project, which focuses on police accountability. He credited Axon for being "attuned to ethical considerations," and his board has produced papers on facial recognition and automated license plate readers.