Axon -- formerly Taser International -- makes police bodycams that they sell to towns on the cheap, betting that they'll make it up by gouging the towns for cloud-based storage for footage from the cameras (what could possibly go wrong?!).
The town of Fontana, California bought some of Axon's bodycams to try them out with its police force, but after three years, decided to open up a general call for bids by Axon and its competitors to outfit the whole force. When a rival won the contract, Fontana tried to cancel its contract with Axon.
Axon's sales reps falsely claimed that Fontana could not cancel its contract (the contract actually contained a "termination for convenience" clause that allowed the town to terminate the contract at will), and implied in correspondence with town officials that they would arrange to have the town's credit rating damaged if the town did not continue to pay $4,000/year for a service it wasn't using.
Muckrock used Freedom of Information Access requests to get a copy of the contract and the correspondence and discovered that the town had been lied to by Axon; when they contacted the town to ask about the discrepancy, officials finally reviewed the contract and discovered the lie.
According to Muckrock, Axon's business relies on recurring payments from small towns for cloud services. Axon is entrusted with the most sensitive and potentially damaging information that many of these towns generate, and unethical conduct on Axon's part could lead to catastrophic consequences for people across the country. The fact that its sales reps use deceit and blackmail to keep payments coming from towns should be a wakeup call for every Axon customer.
As part of its release to a MuckRock California Public Records Act request, Fontana also provided its evaluation of bids in the 2017 search for a body camera purveyor; Axon came third in a field of seven contenders. The agency cited features available from its winning company that were not present on the Axon model, including the ability to securely and easily send digital evidence to the District Attorney. Binks estimates that between 150 and 160 officers are now outfitted with body cameras that also serve as cell phones, capable of calling and performing other applications for officers in the field.
According to Binks, the police department has spent just more than $8,000 for the unused subscription, not that much, he says, in the scheme of things.
However, those recurring costs at agencies across America are increasingly key to Axon’s growth. The company now claims to have some form of customer relationship with 17,000 of the roughly 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the U.S., and it’s actively working to grow its international customer base, making it one of the most ubiquitous providers of police technology. According to the company’s most recent filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the worth of contracts with recurring payments for Evidence.com-related products has nearly tripled in the last two years, from just over $56 million at the end of 2016 to almost $160 million at the end of last year.
Axon misled city about contract terms when police switched to new bodycam vendor [Beryl Lipton/Muckrock]