A night on with the Axon

I’ve heard it called a game changer more than once by law enforcement. What was surprising about it is it was unsolicited and said by supervisors unaffiliated with a company. These were real law enforcement managers with street experience and far from...


I’ve heard it called a game changer more than once by law enforcement. What was surprising about it is it was unsolicited and said by supervisors unaffiliated with a company. These were real law enforcement managers with street experience and far from endorsement deals.

Thursday nights are typically the busier of the week for the sworn staff at Whitewater Police Department. Though the city has a resident population of around 13,400, an ever-recycling student population at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater tallied at about 13,700 keeps Thursday evenings eventful.

About six weeks prior to my ride-along with the Axon, John Szakach of Taser Int’l came to Whitewater PD with five Axon systems to train the officers on the equipment and familiarize them with the digital video evidence management system Taser has developed in conjunction with the Axon.

Initially, when Taser announced the Axon, I was a tad confused—camera systems from the electronic control device company? That’s right.

Supervising Sgt. Brian Uhl spearheaded the trial project and donned the unit during each shift. He says once the initial familiarizing with the system wore off, its use became second-nature. “I didn’t notice the unit while I was wearing it at all.” Switching from record to stand-by modes via tapping the chest-worn trigger was barely noticed while we were on patrol Nov. 11 last year. Frequently Uhl and I would ride up on a stop or incident to support the other officers and I almost missed his movement to begin record. This is largely in part to smart engineering by the Axon team.

An axon is a part of the nervous system that helps in the communication between the body and brain. Clever namesake. Thinking of the Axon units as nerve fibers is a good place to start when envisioning the system. The  AXON is a tactical networkable computer worn by first responders that combines advanced audio and video recording capabilities. It consists of an audio-video earpiece imager, speaker and microphone that integrate into existing radio communications through a standard 3.5 mm headphone connection, providing two way communications in addition to full audio-video recording from a head camera the size and weight of a standard Bluetooth headset.

The HeadCam can be worn over the ear like a standard Bluetooth headset courtesy of head brace that comes standard with the device, however the unit can also be mounted to glasses, helmets through the use of various accessories. It integrates with the radio earpiece and can capture color and low light infrared images. The Com Hub, which connects the HeadCam, radio and AXON Tactical Computer (ATC), contains the user controls – a standard push to talk button for radio controls and a single AXON event button that activates the system to start recording – is attached to the short of the officer while the ATC is stored away in dedicated pockets or on the belt or holster. The ATC is the brains of the system, running on the Linux Operating System the unit is responsible for video compression and storage, features a 10 hour rechargeable battery and 4.3-inch touchscreen display enabling playback and analysis of incident video.

After a day on the beat the Synapse Evidence Transfer Manager (ETM) handles the recorded data with officers placing the ATC into a cradle for recharging and uploading of data. Before the file is uploaded over a secure 128 bit encrypted transport link the AXON generates a digital fingerprint that verifies the original file hasn’t been altered. The data is uploaded via a broadband internet connection to EVIDENCE.com, which comprises two fully replicated, massively scalable, redundant, military-grade secure data centers with 24/7 reliability. The whole process promises a bulletproof chain of custody with the AXON evidence untouched by human hands so it cannot be deleted or altered.

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