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Body-camera companies see their business skyrocketing

Online archiving a growth industry

A Burnsville, Minn., police officer demonstrated a body camera beneath his microphone last month. A federal plan would help buy 50,000 such cameras for police officers.AP/Jim Mone

WASHINGTON — President Obama’s call last week to spend $75 million to outfit America’s police departments with body cameras was celebrated as a move toward officer accountability after the killing of an unarmed teenager in Ferguson, Mo. Suddenly the fledgling body-camera industry stands to make a fortune off police forces nationwide with newfound millions to spend.

The White House would help buy 50,000 body cameras through a proposed spending match with local law enforcement, nearly doubling the number of body cameras in use across the country. And for the two companies in control of this market, the money represents a gold mine: $75 million is more than seven times what Taser International made from body-camera sales last year.


A spokesman for Taser, best known for its electroshock guns, called the Ferguson shooting a ‘‘massive awareness campaign’’ for police body cameras, and investors have feverishly jumped onboard. Taser’s stock has more than doubled, to $24 a share, since Officer Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown in August, climbing Friday to its highest point in a decade.

Police body cameras, which boosters call one of the best ways to reduce false complaints and prevent abuses of power, were cast into the center of a major policy push after Brown’s killing, when a grand jury declined to charge Wilson last month. Police agencies wanting the equipment have two options for where to direct their budgets: Vievu, a private Seattle firm that says it has sold more than 40,000 cameras, and Taser, which has sold about 30,000.

‘‘We are feeling phenomenal right now,’’ Taser chief executive Patrick Smith said in an earnings call in October. ‘‘What everybody thought was crazy five years ago is now accepted as inevitable.’’

And the cameras are just one money maker. Taser is also selling subscriptions to its online data cloud, where terabytes of police video footage can be uploaded, encrypted, and stored. Vievu is working with Microsoft to develop its own cloud platform.


The services solve the police problem of how to manage its sensitive video. Taser’s service even comes with redaction features that can blur or mute on command. But they also give the camera companies a lucrative service that keeps agencies locked in and paying long term. About 75 percent of the body cameras Taser sold this year have been packaged with contracts for Evidence.com, Taser’s cloud service, which sells for up to $55 per officer a month. Nearly all police departments that signed on, Taser said, opted for multiyear deals.

‘‘The upfront cameras themselves are not that interesting. They are, or will be, fairly quickly commoditized. What investors will pay for is a recurring revenue stream,’’ said Steve Dyer, a senior research analyst with Craig-Hallum Capital Group. Taser ‘‘rightly saw early on that selling a plastic camera is going to be a lot worse of a business than building long-term relationships.’’

The industry is still very much in its infancy: The 50,000 cameras supported under Obama’s proposal will cover only 7 percent of the nation’s more than 700,000 sworn officers. That has investors moving in quickly for a foothold in a rising industry.

In two days after the White House’s announcement, the market value of Digital Ally, a small Kansas company that makes a video-recording police flashlight, exploded from $28 million to $55 million.

‘‘I knew once the masses found out this technology existed, everyone would be clamoring for it,’’ Vievu chief executive Steve Ward said. ‘‘My dream of putting a camera on every cop is just coming true even quicker.’’