Hello Reddit! I’m Rick Smith. I’m a father, a CEO, an Arizonan, and an author. When I was in college, two of my friends were shot and killed. That experience made me start to think about nonlethal weapons and whether they could be made a reality. Years later, I worked together with a former NASA scientist to develop the Taser weapon—and from that work came a company that today is listed on the NASDAQ stock exchange.
In the show Star Trek, the phaser weapon could be set to stun—and after my friends were killed, I started to dive deeply into the technology of weapons that could incapacitate without killing. I’ve spent my entire life trying to achieve the goal of “obsoleting the bullet,” and I think we’re closer than ever to a world in which killing is a thing of the past.
I’ve spent decades on this topic, and because the issues are so sensitive and complex, I dove a little bit deeper these past few years and wrote a book about it, called THE END OF KILLING. I think we can end the acceptability of killing in my lifetime, and as crazy as that sounds, I think it’s the crazy ideas that fire up people’s ambitions and energies.
I’m thrilled to be here and answer questions. I’ve been an entrepreneur for a long time, so I’m happy to answer any questions about building a business, the field we work in, technology, or anything else. So feel free to fire away!
UPDATE: Thanks all! I had a blast doing this. I enjoyed the genuine back-and-forth, and I appreciate the depth and thoughtfulness of your questions. I will try to answer the questions that came in more recently, but signing off for now. Thanks again!
Any comment on a recent NPR study that says the police find the taser less effective than the company claims?
Thanks for the question. I think the point of my book “The End of Killing” is, in some ways, this exact point: TASER weapons are not yet as reliable as firearms. That's the moonshot for the next 10 years. However, today they are already the most effective and reliable non/less-lethal weapons available.
I believe we are very transparent about their effectiveness and limitations. We have entire segments of our training focused on what can go wrong and how to reduce ineffective uses. That said, I want to address your question specifically, and for simplicity and speed, I am going to do something we never get to do: publish exactly what we sent to NPR in our response to their questions. Unfortunately, I don't think most of this made it into the final story, but without further ado:
The “effectiveness” of TASER® Conducted Energy Weapons (CEWs) cannot be discussed without first defining relative parameters. When reviewing the “effectiveness” of TASER CEWs at a particular agency, one must ask how the agency is defining effectiveness, how the agency is tracking CEW use, whether the agency is including subject compliance with no deployment (display, LASER or arc only), and in probe deployments, whether the agency is documenting the reason why the deployment is classified as ineffective (missed probe, no completed circuit, etc.). Unfortunately, the answers to these questions vary from agency to agency, as does tracking of CEW deployments, resulting in varying and inaccurate “effectiveness” rates.
At the very least, effectiveness should be defined in a manner that encompasses all possible uses of a TASER CEW: probe deployments, drive stuns and display only (to include LASER and arc display). For example, full neuro-muscular incapacitation (NMI) would not apply if a CEW is only displayed and not deployed. A broader definition which accounts for the intended purpose of CEWs in any mode – to gain the subject’s compliance or control – is more appropriate.
The use of CEWs must also be consistently reported to produce reliable results. For example, very few U.S. agencies consider the mere display of a CEW to be a “use of force” even though that display may result in the subject’s compliance. As a result, those display only CEW uses are not reported and are not included in an agency’s CEW effectiveness numbers. Agencies in other countries, on the other hand, often do include “display only” CEW uses in their use of force reports and report very high compliance rates for those uses. As one example, England and Wales reported that between April 2017 and March 2018, 85% of CEWs uses were “display only” and did not require probe deployment or drive stun.
CEW reporting should also take into account the conditions that must be met for probe deployments to have the potential to cause NMI. These required conditions include a completed circuit and sufficient muscle mass (probe spread). If there is no completed circuit (one or two missed probes), there is no potential for NMI without taking additional steps. All users are trained on these required conditions as well as potential causes of not achieving NMI. By including the reasons a deployment did not achieve NMI, an agency can determine if it was caused by environmental or situational factors versus a weapon error, which can guide what action is needed to increase the chance of obtaining NMI (additional officer training or weapon service).
TASER 7, X2 and X26P CEWs
TASER CEWs are the most studied less lethal tool on an officer’s belt with more than 800 reports, abstracts and studies on the safety and effectiveness of TASER weapons. These studies, along with nearly 4 million field deployments over 25 years, establish they are the most safe and effective less-lethal use of force tool available to law enforcement. In fact, it is estimated that TASER CEWs have saved more than 200,000 lives. This figure is derived from Dr. Alexander Eastman's 2008 research wherein he concluded that 5.4% of the CEW deployments included in his study clearly prevented the use of lethal force, as well as the known number of TASER deployments over the course of the company's history.
Notwithstanding this wealth of research confirming the safety and effectiveness of TASER CEWs, Axon remains committed to continuous product development that keeps the needs of our customers and the communities they serve top-of-mind. Through extensive voice-of-customer sessions, including police ride-alongs to experience the realities of their jobs firsthand, Axon employees gain insight into customer needs, as well as opportunities for improvement and pain points. Axon engineers are also constantly striving to improve our products with new inventions and developments that may not have been possible just a few years ago. As technology improves, so do our products.
The TASER 7 is the result of Axon’s commitment to develop new, innovative products and improve its existing products. Some of those developments sought to address common reasons why a CEW may not cause NMI, including missed probes, clothing disconnects and insufficient probe spreads. The TASER 7 provides significant changes to range deployments by offering two re-designed cartridge options: the Close Quarters Cartridge with a 12-degree probe spread is optimized to be deployed at a distance of 4 to 12 feet, and the Standoff Cartridge with an 3.5-degree probe spread is optimized to be deployed between 11.5 and 22 feet. The redesigned cartridge also has an improved probe design and increased kinetic energy to provide better connection to the target at angles and through thick clothing.
Assuming all conditions are met, a TASER CEW’s ability to cause NMI in probe mode is determined by its waveform, which is described using three main parameters: pulses per second, pulse duration and charge. All three parameters contribute to a CEW’s ability to cause NMI, and must be considered together. Generally speaking, increasing the pulses per second and charge, and decreasing pulse duration, increases the ability to cause NMI.
When testing its CEWs for effectiveness, Axon uses the human motivation protocol which is published and peer-reviewed. That testing includes a panel of law enforcement and medical experts evaluating whether and to what extent the volunteer experiences NMI, which helps the company determine the effectiveness of a particular CEW model or waveform. All testing completed by Axon indicates the X2 and X26P reliably produce NMI when all conditions are met and, in fact, provide increased effectiveness through charge metering. The X2 also increases the potential for achieving NMI by providing a second shot in the event the first deployment is unsuccessful.
I'm a current LEO and our department is the only one in the county (on top of being the largest in the county) who dont carry and use tasers. We usually hear the same talk of them being too expensive, too aggressive looking, and them possibly being abused if we got them. I think the town manager is currently for them, but our chief seems to be very much against them. I think we might get body cameras before we actually get tasers.
What are some things we could say to change their minds?
Here are some stats that might help you make your case: https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/232215.pdf. But sometimes stories are more powerful than statistics. Here's a true story, which, full disclosure, I'm cribbing from my book (hence the italics), but which I think could help:
A highway patrolman is cruising on the interstate when an urgent call comes over his car radio: there’s a disturbance at a residence involving a woman who’s belligerent, possibly intoxicated, and armed. The address is a five-minute drive away, so the officer radios back that he’s en route. He puts on his sirens and speeds to the destination.
When he arrives, two other officers are already at the scene, a darkened, one-story house. The other officers are posted at either side of the screen door, their handguns drawn at their sides. The highway patrolman draws his handgun, edges up to a safe distance, and tries to communicate with the woman through the screen. From the radio dispatcher, the two officers already on the scene, and his communication with the woman, he’s able to piece together the story: she’s recently had two children removed from her care by the Florida Department of Children and Families, she’s deeply distraught, and she’s talking about hurting herself.
In the moment, the cop makes a judgment. He looks at the house, hears the grief in the woman’s voice, and realizes that she isn’t homicidal—she’s suicidal. She is attempting what is known as suicide by cop. She would leave the police no choice but to shoot her. Sensing this, the patrolman holsters his handgun and reaches for his TASER instead.
Seconds later, the woman kicks open the screen door, brandishing butcher knives in each hand. The patrolman fires his TASER device, hitting the woman in the chest and rendering her immobile on the ground. He and the two other officers are able to remove the knives from her clenched hands and to handcuff her without resistance. As they walked her to a waiting police car, one of the officers hears her mumble, “I’m sorry.”
Soon after, the woman’s family members arrive on the scene. Seeing the police cars with their lights flashing and an ambulance that has been called to perform a medical evaluation, they think that the woman has been shot dead. In statements given to the police, they confirm that the woman had discussed her plans to provoke a police officer into shooting her. They aren’t surprised that she has gone through with it; they are surprised that she is still alive.
The story has a postscript, and it takes place several years later. The patrolman who fired the TASER weapon is eating at a local restaurant, when he recognizes one of the servers: it is the woman whose attempt at suicide by cop had failed on that April night, because one of the responding officers was equipped with a non-lethal weapon. The woman recognizes the patrolman, too. She points him out to another employee and says, “See that guy? He saved my life.”
The story of a patrolman who avoided suicide by cop is real. It happened and the police officer shared it with me. Suicide by cop (SBC) is a real phenomenon—and it illustrates just how perverse incentives and behaviors can become when police officers have the ability to take a life. The term goes back to the 1950s, and by one estimate, almost 10 percent of the police shootings that happen every year are attempts at suicide by cop. Dr. Laurence Miller, a clinical and police psychologist, notes that while some incidents evolve in the moment into suicide by cop shootings, many are planned: “While some SBC incidents arise spontaneously out of the anger and panic of these situations, a good number of them appear to be planned, as shown by the fact that in nearly a third of SBC cases investigators find a suicide note that apologizes to the police for deliberately drawing their fire.”
What's your view on Tranq darts as they seem to be your prime competitor?
Okay, I have to go long on this, because it's a subject I've spent a lot of time on. So my TLDR response, for those who don't want all the shop talk: I haven't seen tranquilizer darts deployed by police or military anywhere in the world to date. They get a lot of play in Hollywood movies, but in the real world, I have only seen them used on animals.
The longer answer: If you want to stop someone without requiring physical injury, the best way to do it is to interfere with their command and control system—their nervous system. For all its complexity, the motor nervous system functions via two general mechanisms: electrical and chemical.
On the chemical front, we can think of nerve cells a bit like biological transistors. They switch on and off, passing information around the body. Where two nerve cells meet, the junction is called a synapse. At the synapse, chemicals are released from one nerve cell, and those chemicals stimulate the nerve cell on the other side. We can influence the nervous system through various chemicals, such as anesthetics or paralytic agents. If you have ever had surgery, you have experienced a chemical influence that shut down consciousness across your central nervous system.
There are a wide number of chemical agents we could use to impair someone's nervous system, but there are only a few ways you could deploy them: primarily through injection or inhalation (or perhaps through skin contact or ingestion). For injection, we have tranquilizer darts, as you asked about, and they are used frequently for subduing wild animals, or large animals in zoos. Darts can inject a tranquilizing drug into the subject, usually using an intra-muscular pathway. But injecting a drug into the muscles is a slower pathway to effectiveness than injecting it directly into the veins — because it takes some time to absorb, which is why if you've seen lions on a nature documentary get hit with a dart, they can keep running around for a while before they collapsed. Of course, it’s essentially impossible to hit a moving target in their vein, meaning that instant incapacitation is out. It’s also difficult to control the dosage relative to body size and to predict allergic and other reactions. In fact, in conversations with animal control specialists, we have heard anecdotally that tranquilizer darts have a reasonably high fatality rate, on the order of 10%-20%.
For inhalation, there are nerve agents like nerve gases. Some can be combined with chemical formulations that may allow them to transmit transdermally (through the skin). Most nerve agents that have been created as weapons have been intended for lethal use. Nerve agents typically disrupt the motor nerves at the synapses by preventing the nerve cells from functioning properly. In theory, inhalants could be developed for the intended use of delivering a non-lethal effect. In 2002, Russian special forces tried this. They actually attempted to rescue 850 hostages from 40-50 armed Chechen rebels who had seized control of a Moscow theater in 2002. On the fourth day of the siege, Russian special forces pumped an aerosol anesthetic into the theater. The effects were neither immediate nor entirely safe. It killed a number of hostages and failed to incapacitate many terrorist fighters (apparently some had gas masks). In all, about 200 people died in the raid. (https://www.nytimes.com/2002/10/29/world/hostage-drama-in-moscow-the-toxic-agent-us-suspects-opiate-in-gas-in-russia-raid.html)
So where does that leave us? Well, it brings us back to electricity. As I said, nerve cells are like transistors. While chemistry rules the day at the connections between nerve cells, it is electricity that transmits the signals along nerve fibers. We can impair the command and control systems of the human body by electrical means that stimulate motor nerves using the same mechanism of their normal function. And electricity has some real advantages. Its effects are immediate—there is no waiting for it to take effect. Dosing can be controlled electronically, allowing precise measurement and adjustment. Electricity also has a very large safety margin. The difference between the effective dose and a potentially lethal dose is more than 10-fold, meaning that we should be able to design a weapon that has enough electrical charge to be highly effective while maintaining a significant margin of safety to avoid dangerous unintended effects.
So for those reasons, I'm not particularly worried about tranquilizer darts, and I'm much more sanguine on electricity as the backbone of nonlethal weapons. Forgive the length, but this is something I've thought about a lot!
Have you ever felt that police over-use their Taser specifically because it is non-lethal?
This is certainly a concern. It's one of the reasons we built a recording device called the “dataport” into the original TASER M26 in 1999 and every model since then. The dataport records every trigger pull, so we can determine how many times an officer used a TASER weapon and allow agencies to monitor for overuse. It's also why we developed the TASERCam (a camera mounted on the TASER), and ultimately why we developed body cameras.
Because a TASER weapon causes far less injury than a firearm, it is certainly more likely to be used. In most cases, this is a good thing, because the risk of injury from a TASER is about 3 injuries per 1,000 uses—which is far less than for other force options such as batons (about 780 injuries per 1,000 uses). So, generally speaking, if officers are using a TASER instead of a firearm, baton, punch, or other physical force, it's a move in the right direction because it reduces risk of injuries.
The risk is that officers use the TASER instead of patience and verbal skills. This is a phenomenon some call “TASER dependence," where officers over-rely on the TASER weapon and escalate to use force when they shouldn't. I believe this is where body cameras can play a huge role in ensuring that agencies can review the specifics of every TASER weapon use and deter overuse. It's also why we're using VR technology to build trainings specifically designed to help officers de-escalate tough situations.
Can you please explain why Taser sues medical examiners who cite tasers as a cause of death? And why they push junk science "excited delirium" (a once-obscure medically-unsupported cause of death that, though it predates Taser, has been heavily pushed by the company) explanations rather than the obvious (being electrocuted to death)?
First, there is a misperception that TASER sued medical examiners personally—that somehow we'd get monetary damages from them. This could not be further from the truth. The case you are referring to happened in Ohio, where a medical examiner listed the TASER as a cause of death in two different cases. As a result of that ruling, several officers were charged criminally, and many were sued in civil court.
Here's the problem: there was no supporting evidence that the TASER caused these deaths, and there was ample evidence of other causes of death. In Ohio, the procedure for challenging a medical opinion is to file a challenge in the court—which is exactly what we did. Far from being a spurious claim, we prevailed in court. The judge ruled that the medical examiner had no scientific evidence to support their findings, and the court ordered the TASER be stricken from the cause of death.
I want to be crystal clear: there was never any risk of that medical examiner, or any other, having to pay us a dime. What we wanted was a court to assess the truth of their findings—and that’s what happened. Medical examiners are public officials, and as with any public official, medical examiners have to be able to support their findings with scientific evidence, not personal or political beliefs. We stood up to help defend the officers involved in those incidents and to ensure that medical findings are accurate and supported by science.
Regarding your assertion that electrocution via a TASER is “obvious,” this is not accurate. Electrocution refers to when an electric current passes across the heart and causes it to go into ventricular fibrillation. This is an immediate phenomenon, and the person will lose consciousness within a few seconds. In most cases where there is a death in custody, electrocution can be ruled out by two facts: first, the electrical pathway would need to have the darts in the chest with a current pathway across the heart, and second, the collapse would be immediate. In the vast majority of cases, electrocution can be ruled out because these factors are not present.
We then need to look at other factors involved in these cases. Each year, over 325,000 people die of sudden cardiac death in the U.S. (the #1 cause of death), and another 70,000 people die of drug overdoses. A top trigger for sudden cardiac death is physical exertion and stress (one reason why you see cardiac defibrillators in health clubs). It is hard to imagine a more extreme physical stress and exertion than fighting with the police—and in many cases, people are also under the stress of toxic doses of stimulants like methamphetamines, PCP, or cocaine.
Of course, we continue to do extensive research into how to maximize both the safety and effectiveness of TASER devices. But we also will challenge unsupported claims to ensure the public record is based upon solid science.
As an entrepreneur in the weapons industry, how hard did you have to search to get funding for your ideas? Or did you just fund it entirely yourself?
I'm running into this challenge myself, it seems there's no clear path to find funding for a product when it involves weapons or firearms. Crowdfunding seems like the obvious answer in my mind but firearms and weapons products are banned on every major crowdfunding platform. I've dumped a lot of my own money into my own R&D but taking the product to market is the big leap I can't afford.
We had to fund TASER entirely via friends and family. Venture capital was allergic to this space, partially because it didn't easily fit into existing focus areas (such as the internet or health care), and partially because it is inherently controversial.
I believe this is a real problem, and why I challenge the tech industry to rethink their ban on supporting work or even advertising in this space. If we are going to solve the hardest problems facing our society, we need our brightest minds working on these problems, and investors supporting that work. It was a brutal process in creating TASER, and we drove my parents to the brink of financial ruin before turning the corner in 1999. The first outside capital we ever raised was in an IPO in 2001 - after we had already proven the business a success. I wish I had a better answer for you, but raising money in this space is insanely hard. Your best bet is to find angels who believe in your mission.
What's your opinion about police using tasers as compliance weapons? I'm not talking about drive stun -- I'm talking about repeated discharging of the weapon on someone who was already tasered once. I've seen quite a few videos where police say, "Roll over (or do X) or else you're gonna get it again!" after the suspect has been shot once and is already on the ground.
I understand that for a rural officer dealing with an armed man, this is probably warranted and preferable to shooting him. But so many times, I see people who are unarmed and are merely non-compliant (for example, they're already on the ground but just not rolling over). Taser is meant to incapacitate, and the suspects are already incapacitated -- and yet the officer applies it again and again as a compliance tool. Is this how taser should be used? Is this how officers are trained?
This one is, indeed, complicated, as it depends a lot on the circumstances and level of threat perceived. In general, we train that officers should move quickly to rapidly disarm and restrain the subject and to minimize the number of TASER applications. Each subsequent application of a TASER discharge is its own use of force and needs to be justifiable based on the facts and circumstances of each case at the moment the decision was made to apply another discharge. There certainly have been cases where the first TASER discharge was found justifiable, but continued discharges were found unjustifiable.
Didn't Axon Enterprises created facial recognition software for use by the police? Did the project really stop, or is it on pause for the moment? Would greater transparency around the process help the public understand the dangers to law enforcement's use of such technology, particularly given its various constraints and its racist applications? Could you speak to the use of FRT (facial rec technology) by police and why Axon started created the software to be deployed in things like body-worn cameras in the first place? Did no one at Axon notice that they were potentially creating a mass surveillance system?
I really appreciate the question. We specifically have not developed facial recognition software to run on a body camera.
Simply put, the accuracy of the technology—particularly disparities in accuracy across different ethnicities—is highly questionable today. Ultimately, I think the bias problems will be solved, at which point in time we will need to think hard about the appropriateness and constitutionality of using facial recognition on body cameras. We'll need to decide as a society whether the benefits outweigh the costs. Today, my view is that the benefits do not outweigh the costs.
That said, we are continuing to monitor developments in the facial recognition space, because there's real potential there to help improve public safety. We're also working together with an AI ethics advisory board we created before deploying any solutions in this space. Happy to say more if have follow-up questions, but if you want to learn more about all that, you can go here: https://www.axon.com/company/news/responsible-ai. And for something more recent, here: https://www.axon.com/company/news/ai-ethics-board-report.
Hi Rick, thank you for doing this AMA.
This is probably a pretty niche question, but as a prosecutor, I regularly work with your company's body cams. Over the past few years, I've noticed the amount of body cam footage has increased exponentially both due to greater adoption by agencies and also greater use among officers in the place of traditional recorded interviews and scene photos. How are you preparing to deal with the massive increase in upload, storage, and downloads in the coming years as body camera use continues to expand? Is there any work being done to make the process easier for the end user? I know there's been days when I would have loved to have a desktop based download manager that could queue files and resume downloads after interruptions.
I've read some opinions/studies that claim less than lethal weapons increase escalation and police use it instead of de-escalating with words or physical force and not instead of using their gun. Since a taser, or most less lethal weapons, can kill this is obviously not a good thing.
I for one am quite glad the police here don't carry tasers and most if not all less lethal weapons are illegal for the general public. But on the other hand we don't have the same issue with gun violence that the US has.
What's your view of this?
While there is some risk that having less dangerous weapons might lead to more frequent usage, this argument taken to the extreme would conclude that we should only give police officers guns and nothing else. But we give police pepper spray and batons, because even if they are more likely to be used, we believe that they are preferable to firing a gun. We want police to have options—not just to depend on the firearm as their instrument of first and only resort.
Even compared to traditional force tactics like punches, baton strikes, etc., the TASER weapon has a far lower injury rate. (See this study from the Department of Justice. https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/232215.pdf.) If your local police do not have the TASER weapon as an option, the risk of them injuring someone is significantly higher. That's one reason that every constabulary in the United Kingdom now uses TASER weapons—and the UK is probably at the far end of the spectrum in terms of gun violence compared to the U.S.
Hey Rick, Why is your yearly salary the highest of any CEO?
Yeah, the salary thing is more complicated than it appears.
Last year, the board approached me to see if I would be interested in a compensation plan similar to the one for Tesla founder Elon Musk - where you forgo all salary and put everything into an at-risk stock option plan. Basically, I could earn up 1% of the company for every $1 billion increase in the value of the company. We would also have to hit financial performance milestones that meant exponentially growing revenue and EBITDA (profits). I found the approach very appealing, so I agreed to accept this all at-risk plan (note: under Arizona law I still get paid minimum wage, so it's not ALL at risk).
Once we announced the plan, the stock shot up from the $20s to the $70s. I believe part of the reason it shot up was investors reacted positively to the idea of me putting all of my compensation at risk and took this as a positive signal. (Please note: I can't tell why our stock moves any more than anyone else, so please read financial disclaimers here https://s22.q4cdn.com/113350915/files/doc_presentations/2019/06/Baird-Conference-June-2019.pdf).
The downside to the stock shooting up is that the stock options granted to me were suddenly much more valuable than they were on the day they were approved by the board. The cost of the options are calculated based on some very complex accounting math, based on the day the shareholders approved the plan (which was in May, about 3 months after the board approved the plan, and the stock had shot up). The net result was that the calculated value of the options came out to a whopping $246 million, which is the number that has made it into the headlines.
Just to be totally, 100 percent, no-nonsense clear: so far I have earned $0 from this plan. It will be at least a couple of years before we hit any of the performance milestones. And, once we hit them, I have to hold the stock for another 2.5 years before I can sell. So, the earliest payouts would be about 5 years into the plan. (For the record, my wife was not a fan of me taking this plan because of the risk and long times until any cash realized—exactly the things that made it exciting to me!)
Candidly, I believe CEO's are overpaid. Especially when they suck and get fired and get some golden parachute. What makes me feel good about this plan is that I only get paid if we grow the company significantly. If we suck, I make $0. (Well, minimum wage technically). If we grow the company 10X from where we started, I earn back 12% of the company I started in a garage 26 years ago. Shareholders agreed it was a good approach, both by voting for the plan and (perhaps) by the signal in the reaction of the stock price.
What makes me particularly proud is that we didn't just do it for me. I worked with our compensation committee to make a modified version of this plan available to the entire company, where employees in different compensation bands could elect to put a portion of their compensation at risk and receive stock units tied to the exact same milestones as me. We call this our Exponential Stock Performance Plan. (See https://www.worldatwork.org/workspan/articles/a-stock-performance-plan-of-the-future if you want to read more.)
It's really exciting to have the entire company aligned to these goals. We can make over 100 people millionaires if we hit them. I got so pumped up about the plan that I got my scorecard tattoo'd on my arm with 12 markings that will get checked off as we hit the 12 performance milestones. (And I am not alone, others have joined me in Axon tattoo mania.
And now for the necessary disclaimers: the above are my own words, written in real-time to respond to a thoughtful question on Reddit. I believe transparent communications are important, but my company would want me to let you know that you can find the full, official details on our website.
How would you go about transitioning away from lethal weapons for domestic law enforcement when criminals have access to similar weapons but don't adhere to any principles?
The only way this will happen is if the non-lethal weapons reach a point where they are more effective at stopping the threat than a police pistol. At first, this might sound crazy: “What could be more effective than making somebody dead?” But the truth is that pistols don't stop people immediately, every time. A bullet from a handgun causes traumatic tissue damage, and 30-50% of the time eventual death. However, an FBI analysis found that a lethal shot directly to the heart may not even stop someone from firing back for up to 14 seconds (the period of time it takes for the brain to shut down from lack of blood flow). During the adrenaline surge of a life-and-death fight, many people don't even realize they have been shot until it's over. The only way a bullet from a pistol causes and immediate incapacitation is a hit to the brain or upper spinal cord, which is pretty hard to do under stress.
An upside of electrical weapons is that they can provide a higher degree of incapacitation even if the hit is to a remote portion of the body. The downside is that, today, the ability to put two electrified darts onto the target and through the clothing is less reliable than using a traditional bullet from a police pistol that gives you 17 shots. But these are engineering problems—and I believe we can engineer solutions. Electric effects are more profound and immediate than bullet wounds outside of the central nervous system. We just need to meet or exceed the reliability levels of getting the effect delivered to the target.
Let me say one more thing about this: police officers don’t sign up to become police officers in order to take lives, and you’d be surprised at the negative after-effects of a shooting death on a police officer. There’s an assumption that just because they’re trained to use a firearm professionally that somehow the pain and trauma of taking a life disappears. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Most officers involved in a lethal force incident eventually leave policing, citing the lethal force incident as one of the key reasons--if not the key reason--why they left.
We need better nonlethal weapons, period. Even police were skeptical of our weapons in the early days—based, at least in part, on the principle behind your question–but now they tell us they want the best non-lethal options they can get. If they can deal with a situation without taking someone’s life, that’s the best-case scenario for everyone involved.
I appreciate tasers in principle as less-lethal options but I worry about head injuries when I see tasered subjects fall. Has there been any research done in that area?
That's a meaningful question as injuries from falls are likely the greatest risk. I currently estimate the risk on the order of about 1 fatal fall injury per 200,000 uses (i.e., 20 cases in 4 million field uses). The primary way to reduce the risk is through training—to avoid using a TASER weapon on people at elevated risk from falls. This includes people running, people who are at elevated heights, or who are operating a vehicle of some type. Unfortunately, the act of incapacitation itself does carry the risk of an uncontrolled fall, and while we try to mitigate that risk as best we can, it's something we can reduce but not eliminate entirely.
Rick, I have read that tasers made for Police use have a setting called drive stun, which is designed to inflict pain in order to Force compliance. this sounds an awful lot like a torture device to me, what sorts of precautions are you considering to keep this from being abused?
From Wikipedia: A Las Vegas police document says "The Drive Stun causes significant localized pain in the area touched by the Taser, but does not have a significant effect on the central nervous system. The Drive Stun does not incapacitate a subject but may assist in taking a subject into custody." The UCLA Taser incident and the University of Florida Taser incident involved university police officers using their Taser's "Drive Stun" capability (referred to as a "contact tase" in the University of Florida Offense Report).
Great question. One of the key limitations of today's TASER weapons is that they only have 1 or 2 shots. So, if the officer deploys the weapon and misses the target and the subject attacks the officer, the officer can press the front of the weapon directly against the body of the subject and it will deliver an electric jolt from the front of the device. This is called a “Drive Stun” as the user must physically push the front of the weapon against the subject.
When we originally designed the device, this was a fall-back defensive measure. However, some agencies had policies where they would remove the cartridge from the front of the weapon and only use the front of the device to deliver a “drive stun.” Because it did not involve firing the darts, some agencies felt this was a lower use-of-force than firing the darts.
What we have seen in the field is that the use of the weapon in drive stun does not cause incapacitation, but rather only pain. So, most agencies have moved away from using the drive stun as a stand-alone capability. In our training guidelines, we recommend against using the drive stun as a primary use case because it is less effective than using the darts.
One powerful positive aspect of the drive stun: our newer weapons (X2 and TASER 7) allow the operator to display a warning arc across the front of the weapon without unloading the cartridges. In the UK, agencies have seen over 80% of situations resolved only by showing the arc display—which means they avoided the need to fire the darts or use any force other than the display of the electric arc.
Much of our training now focuses on how to de-escalate any situation, either through verbal skills or through the display of the arc in attempts to attain cooperation without deploying force. We have also recently deployed VR based training to teach officers better empathy for persons suffering from mental health issues such as autism or schizophrenia. (To see more about this, check out: https://abcnews.go.com/GMA/News/virtual-reality-training-tech-takes-cops-directly-minds/story?id=63125741)
On the topic of avoiding abuse, this was the primary driver for us to create body cameras—to record how police officers were using TASER weapons precisely to deter abuse, and hold officers accountable for their use. I'll say more about that shortly!
How do you expect to make the bullet obsolete, and replace it with non-violent weapons when:
1) They're so expensive?
2) Completely controlled by your company to the point that if one stops working and it's sent back to get fixed, you don't replace it free of charge?
I understand there's a money thing here, but the monopoly you have on the design stifles advancement and free-market growth. The practices that drain department funds and prevent large scale purchases and upkeep for any possible breakdowns is a bit ... Shady? Unfair?
Now, this is all what I've heard from our purchasing department and training supervisor and I could be incorrect, but his comment was "But what can we do? We have no choice but to pay it and follow their guidelines, they're the only source."
Thanks for the question.
I admit: I take a slightly different viewpoint. The reason we are the sole provider of TASER technology is we have over 100 patents. Patents are specifically designed to incentivize companies to invest in R&D by protecting their inventions. This year we will invest around $100 million in R&D, which is only a rational business decision because the patents that result from our R&D will enable us to earn a financial return on those investments. If there were no patents, companies would invest less in R&D, not more.
Finally, one advantage of being a public company is you can see our financial statements and see exactly how much money we make. Last year, we invested $77 million in R&D, which was about 3x our operating income of $27 million. Our operating profit was only 6.4% of sales, compared to R&D of 18% of sales. For comparison, the average company on the S&P 500 earned 11.1% net profit margin. So, I don't think the numbers support that we are unreasonably profitable.
Hi Rick, as former LEO I can say without a doubt the Taser is a game changer with less than lethal force, force multiplier, and also protecting the officer with the aftermath of the dreaded “shoot/don’t shoot” decision. Also a taser will take the fight out of an assailant more efficiently than a bullet in most cases. Some people who are shot, don’t even know it at the moment of impact, so the fight isn’t necessarily over just because they are shot. With a taser it’s pretty instantaneous, regardless of who they are or how big they are. Obviously there are limited instances where a taser didn’t do the job, but far fewer than getting shot.
The biggest issue with replacing the bullet for the end users potentially being range and accuracy once range is extended. What are the plans for extending distance and accuracy for future models?
Also, I’ve concealed carried a handgun since I was legally able to. If I could go back and carry a taser instead for the same reasons (protection) it would, in my opinion been a much safer option. Are there any plans to lobby for civilian licenses and concealed carry of tasers (after proper training) in lieu of handguns? Without getting into the whole debate about 2nd Amendment rights etc, restricting handgun sales and carry for private citizens but offering them the option of a taser makes sense. Especially since it would be easier to track taser deployment and use for forensic purposes, such as barbs having specific identifiers or maybe r/f tracking back to the original taser unit and owner.
Yes, TASER weapons are available today in most states. One of the ideas for long-range is to use drones to carry a TASER payload. See https://www.flipsnack.com/endofkillingcomic/the-end-of-killing/full-view.html for an online graphic novel depicting some of those scenarios. To be clear, the drone idea is still a concept, not a product. I put it in the book to get feedback about the idea, the risks, and the possible use cases. Would love your thoughts!
If you think killing will be a thing of the past, do you also think that war is an unnecessary evil? Curious as to what you have to say about this
I personally do believe we are heading to the obsolescence of war, although I think it will take a very long time horizon, on the order of centuries.
Hundreds of years ago, war was common between neighboring towns, villages and countries. Today, a war between, say, the states of New York and New Jersey is unthinkable. Similarly, within the EU the chance of a war between Germany and France is highly unlikely. Industrialized wars between modern nations are on a long term decline, where it is no longer acceptable for nations to engage in war for the purpose of building empires or taking resources (although admittedly not everyone believes countries abide by this norm).
Now, that's not to say the world can unilaterally disarm. I believe that part of what is preventing wars is strong deterrence. That said, I believe the foreseeable military conflicts of the next few decades are likely to be similar to the ones of the past few decades, involving non-nation-state actors that engage in urban combat operations where our hyper-lethal weapons are of very limited use.
I think we need a more serious approach to non-lethal weapons used by the military. (Let me just say that I’m based in the US, so I’m speaking of the US military here, though I think what I’m arguing could be applied around the world.) Taking nonlethals seriously doesn’t mean “turning our military soft.” Today, the lack of effective non-lethal military weapons is a huge strategic Achilles heel. Think about it: we cannot stop a child approaching a Humvee without killing them, and that’s a weakness that our adversaries exploit with brutal creativity. Soldiers are baited into killing innocent people, and that’s a fixable problem with better nonlethal technology.
What I’d like policymakers and national security officials to understand and explore is the idea that non-lethal options can actually help the military better achieve its mission objectives, while also saving lives. I think there will always be situations in which we need to take direct action to deal with armed conflicts, but I think there are better and smarter and less-lethal ways to do that. Here's a story from retired Marine Officer Sid Heal in my book, The End of Killing, that illustrates this need:
“I was in Iraq, interviewing an Amtrak driver. He was almost in tears. I say it was hard to talk to him because he kept choking up. I’d never seen a Marine in combat choke up so profoundly. I interviewed five guys on his team, and three of them were having a difficult time telling the story.
The day before I interviewed them they had had a vehicle approach their checkpoints. It was very fast, coming down the road. Needless to say we were already experiencing suicide bombers and that was the first thing that came to their mind because that is the threat that they're going to have to deal with.
The platoon commander, a lieutenant, ordered warning shots. So they fired their machine guns. I don't know if you’ve ever seen warning shots but if you’re in a car they’re very ineffective. The only thing you can usually hear from inside the car is a distant popping sound, I mean it’s not startling at all. Even though…they’re shooting and having ricochets off the ground [and] everything. The only thing you really see is faint puffs. It’s not like on TV where you have these dramatic effects, it’s very ineffectual as far as a signal. So the vehicle just kept coming. So they ordered it again. I believe they fired two series of warning shots.
The third time, though, they [were] told “light it up” and they fired into this and basically destroyed this SUV. Then they waited for two and a half hours for EOD [explosive ordnance disposal] to come and clear the device so that nobody got killed by a car bomb, which is what they thought was happening. But what they got was a family, and the family…looks like they were just escaping from the Iraqi side and trying to get out. And there was a little girl alive in the backseat but she had been gravely wounded.
Everybody else was already dead. The men telling me the story could barely talk to describe their feelings when they saw it was a family and not a suicide bomber. And then they saw the little girl. Needless to say, they did everything they could. They called helicopters and medevac and Corpsman. But she died.
This guy is going to live with that the rest of his life. He was the machine gunner. He could barely tell me the story.”
Hi Rick, I'm a police officer and therefore have a decent amount of experience with your product.
I think it's great, and a really useful tool. Especially considering I work in the UK where we have no firearm option without calling in a firearms unit, which can take over half an hour in a rural area.
As much as I love it, what concerns me about the product is its high rate of failure. From memory I believe my force cites a 43% success rate upon firing (of course, this does not account for the times you don't need to fire because it's a great deterrent, which I feel is its best use - and that number is only from memory so I welcome correction). For this reason the bullet will never become obsolete any time soon - and we've been in situations where two tasers hit their mark and are unsuccessful (you don't need to be told the factors that can cause this), and in this case we're back to square one of taking on a knife man with spray and batons only now we've lost our opportunity for a quick rush in to overwhelm and they're more confident.
What innovations are being made to improve this number? And is there any scope to extend the effective range?
Thanks for your question. 43% sounds really low to me. I just saw statics out of the UK showing the success rate of the X2 is 96% when both darts make skin contact with a spread of 30 cm or greater. That number drops to 50% if one dart is in clothing only and the spread is less than 23 cm. So, it's all about penetrating the clothing and getting good spread conditions. The new TASER 7 is in review for approval in the UK, and we believe it will significantly improve both accuracy and clothing penetration.
Hi Rick. Currently in my new hire orientation at Axon and they gave us a copy of your book! Excited to read it later.
Hearing your story was inspirational. What are some of the key challenges that lie ahead for the company? What has been the most challenging thing for you so far?
Some of the biggest challenges are around changing mindsets. Getting buy-in that it's a worthwhile goal to end killing, and that means we need to invest in technologies that are controversial and carry some degree of risk in the interest of reducing our reliance on lethal technologies. There are engineering challenges, for sure, but some of the hardest work we do is in convincing people that we can actually end killing.
Let me add, too: I have been really moved by the open-mindedness of the people here on Reddit, who ask hard questions but seem very open toward the answers, even if they don't agree with them. You don't see that every day. And if more people were willing to have these kinds of dialogues, we might get to our goal faster.
Also, PS: welcome to Axon!
Is there some level of electricity that would even bring a really strong/big crazy person on a ton of drugs down? Or would it have to be so high it would most likely kill most other people that are smaller or not on such drugs?
Edit: Or would there be the possibility to make a Taser with like 3 or 4 modes like: Normal, Strong/Big Person, "Crazy Drugs" and "Basically Electric Chair"?
Thanks for the question! One advantage of electricity is that it has a large margin between the level we need for an effective dose and a potentially lethal dose. I believe that the output of the TASER 7 is optimized for maximum effect with maximum safety. Namely, we have looked at whether it would make sense to have multiple settings for the electrical output, and the answer is “no.” It would add one more level of confusion for the operator, and I don't believe it would improve safety.
When TASER weapons fail to subdue a subject, it is almost always due to some circumstance such as a missed probe, a clothing disconnect that breaks the circuit, or a close spread of the darts that does not stimulate enough body mass. We are focusing on improving performance against these areas to ensure an even higher degree of effectiveness in the field.
I have seen many videos where a good TASER weapon connection incapacitates even the most violent offenders, whether they are on drugs or not. Here's one example of a violent subject on meth: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VVKLulFG5hg
So, the real challenge is solving for effective reliable connection to the target more so than giving the user the ability to adjust electrical output.
Hey. Obviously you're product is meant primarily for law enforcement. My question though is what are your feelings about civilian ownership of your products?
Apologies if this question's been asked already
Thanks for the question (and it wasn't one I saw earlier). TASER weapons are available in most states for personal use. For many people, it's a choice that gives them a sense of personal safety without the inherent risks of lethal weapons. (And if you'll forgive the shameless plug: they are available at buy.TASER.com and (most likely) at your local gun store.)
Hey Rick! If you're still on I have a burning question.
How many times have you tested your non-lethal weapons on yourself/on partners? (In a safe environment of course)
I've done it 7 times. Most of the senior leaders at the company have experienced an exposure. My adult son has done it. I have personally seen about 1,000 people (mostly at training events or industry conferences).
Wow, just saw my prior response. Getting punchy after a long day... going back through cleaning up loose ends.
I noticed that Axon is getting into virtual reality training for law enforcement. I think that's pretty neat. Do you have any plans to expand this in the future? Could be an interesting opportunity to add more startup acquisitions to your belt if you do want to keep moving in this direction.
It's a pretty well-known fact that the taser is named after the book Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle, which featured -- at least, according to Wikipedia -- Jack Cover's 'childhood hero' Tom Swift.
Be honest: were you and the other early developers all on board with that as a name? Or did you think it was a bit of a strange choice to name it after a children's book? How did that pitch go?
The name TASER was selected in the late 1960s. I was born in 1970, so the name was set well before I had any input. I would say, though, that when I first started to research the non-lethal weapons space, I thought the name TASER was an amazing brand name. It is powerful in connoting what the device is and does, and honestly, I was surprised when I learned it was an acronym.
Let me also add: Tom Swift was a huge inspiration for a lot of innovators and futurists, including, among others, Ray Kurzweil.
Hey Rick, I've been tasered for training as well as seen it deployed numerous times and I think you should be proud of your work as I can personally attest it has saved lives.
My question, should you actually read this, is your opinion on other less lethal options such as the Arwen. I've been trained on the arwen (Have not used it yet) and I've heard that it really do much as it is a pain compliance weapon being used most often incredibly high people. Do you believe it's as valid as the taser?
Thanks in advance
Yup, actually read it. Although I admit: I am completely swamped (in a good way) with all the comments and questions! The Arwen does have the advantage of longer range. It is not an incapacitant, but does deliver a strong impact effect. I have heard it can be useful in long-range encounters, and I think it's credible.
For more info (for other interested readers): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ARWEN_37
Hello. I wouldn't have expected to be interested in this thread, but you seem very genuine and honest in your answers so far.
You mentioned the Star Trek phaser and its "stun" setting. Do you ever see such a weapon becoming available one day?
Maybe not the exact weapon... but thematically, yes, I expect to see much more capable non-lethal weapons in the future.
As a CCW permit holder, I believe in my marksmanship and the firearm I use in that it will work as expected, when expected. I arrive at this point of confidence due to ongoing training/practice and thoroughly maintaining my firearms.
I do not have the same confidence in the ability of a product like yours to match in equal respect.
Can you speak to how progress you may have made (or will be making) can address such a gap between traditional firearms and products such as yours?
We are not there yet, in terms of a world in which TASER weapons can offer the same level of reliability as your lethal weapon. Let's be honest: firearms have a several hundred-year head start on us. While I can't go into a lot of detail, I can say that we have a very heavy R&D effort underway right now aimed at increasing our accuracy and reliability to levels where we can close the gap. And I do think we can close the gap, in a way that gives you the confidence you're looking for and makes nonlethal weapons the default choice. (Incidentally, this issue is one of the reasons I wrote my book, “The End of Killing” now: to set the moon shot goal of closing the effectiveness and reliability gap between nonlethal weapons and guns within the next decade.)
As a law enforcement officer, I have to say that I’ve been very pleased with the TASER as a less-lethal weapon. In particular, I found that displaying the arc with an X2 was very effective at de-escalating conflicts where verbal tactics had failed.
However, I’ve recently moved into a position where I am required to use on of your body cameras. Our Chief recently made the statement in a training that “if it’s not on camera, it didn’t happen.” Cameras can be very helpful in some cases but I feel that they also contribute to an erosion of public trust. No video can show the full picture of an incident and it allows for “armchair quarterbacking.” Graham v Conor specifically states that “a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight." How do you feel about body cameras being used in direct conflict of that principle?
Let the downvotes begin!
From my perspective, I think body cameras are really helping rebuild the public trust in police. Without them, all we would have are videos from third-party observers, who only tend to record the end of a confrontation without all of the context leading up to it.
Consider, for instance, the anger and emotion around the Michael Brown incident in Ferguson, Missouri. People formed very strong opinions very quickly, and many people assumed the cop executed an innocent man. The subsequent investigation largely supported the officers' testimony that he was in the midst of a violent assault. (See this story for the details: https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-partisan/wp/2015/03/16/lesson-learned-from-the-shooting-of-michael-brown/?utm_term=.8df35a2aaffd)
If Officer Wilson had been wearing a body camera, I think the facts of the case would have come to light much more quickly, and perhaps we would have seen less anger and distrust toward police. While a body camera cannot capture the exact perceptions happening in the mind of a police officer under stress, the impartial events captured on the camera can help us all get to the truth of the situation faster.
As an aside, I have experienced that most officers don't want to wear a body camera when it is first proposed. After about 90 days in the field, most refuse to go on patrol without it—because they have already captured an incident that will protect them from a potential complaint.
What's your favorite Jackie Chan movie?
Rush Hour. Though that's partly also because of Chris Tucker. I thought they had great on-screen chemistry.
Many of the questions in this AMA seem to be attacking your product which seems odd to me because I think your goals are very noble. I, for one, love the idea of an effective less than lethal option form LEOs especially in the USA where guns are often misused in the field.
But, I think it is clear that either through misuse by the LEO or because of equipment failure, the taser isn’t to the point yet that it could make guns obsolete in the line of duty. So my question is, what are some training initiatives or engineering improvements that you hope to implement that will move the taser closer to the goal of fully eclipsing the pistol in law enforcement work?
Appreciate the question and the compliment!
When we get a good connection to the target, the TASER weapon is the fastest, most effective incapacitation. It's all about getting a reliable connection to the target with good spread. The TASER 7 makes big strides in this area, and it is the primary focus of our R&D to further improve until we match or surpass the 9mm bullet.
In France, there has recently been a lot of action between the police and people protesting in the streets (the yellow jackets). During these events, the Police used a non-lethal weapon called the Flashball. The problem with Flashballs is that they're still projectile weapons and for that reason, they have caused a lot of broken bones and even permanent damages like people losing an eye.
What's your take on the Flashball and what do you think a safer alternative could be ?
Flashball is a fairly typical impact projectile, meaning it is designed specifically to impact the target and cause some pain, bruising, or physical damage. One advantage is that these impact projectiles do offer longer range, which is one reason why police agencies use them during public disorder events. Police agencies also relate that, in many instances, their goal is to disperse some of the more violent people in a crowd rather than trying to arrest them. For that purpose, they find the long-range impact weapons more appropriate to the specific situation than a closer range TASER weapon that will incapacitate someone. We have been asked to research longer-range options that might have a better safety profile than today's impact munitions. Stay tuned...
So what is your exact stance on guns? Or firearms that are lethal if you're ok with non lethals? Do you want them to be eliminated completely? Do you think there is any room for civilian ownership for purposes of sport shooting or hunting? If not, why? If so, why?
Thanks. I hope I can get a more technical or practical response instead of a political one.
I believe that firearms are a personal choice and I respect that people have different views. We choose not to have guns in my household, but I respect people who choose to have one. I don't hunt, but respect people who do. My personal mission is to give people another choice besides killing someone. And if we do our job well, then people can make their own choice. When people understand the true gravity and legal implications of killing another human being, I believe most people would choose an alternative—once that alternative can match the reliability and performance of today's lethal weapons.
I dig your mission and applaud you for the steps you've taken so far. The taser is a great tool but the general consensus I've heard from my LEO friends is that it's incredibly unreliable. Half the time the barbs don't make a good connection, the suspect is too high on drugs/adrenalin to notice, or they simply just don't react for whatever reason.
A few questions:
Thank you, and thanks for the question!
Of course, I'm going to have to push back and say that “incredibly unreliable” is, I think, an overstatement. The technology is not as reliable as firearms today, but effectiveness ratings in the field tend to be in the 80 percent-plus range and is usually the highest of any non-lethal weapon. TASER weapons are uniquely effective against subjects who are under the influence of drugs that impair their pain perception.
That said, the top two causes of ineffective uses are: 1) Misses 2) Clothing penetration failures. We just launched the seventh generation TASER weapon, TASER 7, a little under a year ago. TASER 7 addresses both of these performance areas by: 1) Increasing accuracy (from the way the darts are deployed) 2) Increasing impact energy by about 2x (for better clothing penetration) 3) Increasing the effectiveness of the electrical stimulation via adaptive cross-connect and rapid NMI. (See https://www.axon.com/products/taser-7 for more details on all that).
Let me also add: we are knee-deep in R&D on the next generation to continue to improve performance. We are focusing most of our R&D on electricity as the core effect. See my other answer that goes into more detail why I believe electricity is the optimal technology to maximize incapacitation while minimizing risk.
Making the bullet obsolete sounds like a worthy cause, however, it seems disingenuous to market Tasers as "non-lethal" when more than 1,000 people have died following police use of Tasers, and many more have been seriously injured, including children and pregnant women.
How do you respond to studies that find no evidence that Tasers reduce the use of firearms? It seems instead that the presence of Tasers escalates non-violent situations and increases instances of excessive force.
Thanks for the question. (As far as the nonlethal language piece goes, I answered that question here: https://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/caljes/im_rick_smith_the_founder_and_ceo_of_taser_now/etaah4t?utm_source=share&utm_medium=web2x)
On the issue of the studies, here's some thoughts. Numerous studies show that agencies using TASER weapons have a lower risk of injury to both police and members of the community. We can estimate there have been about 200,000 instances where TASER devices were used in situations where lethal force was legally justified—meaning that TASERs were used in lieu of shooting a gun, which I think, you'd agree, is preferable.
There's other information that shows that cities like Cincinnati saw a dramatic decline in police shootings following the deployment of TASER weapons. (See https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/232215.pdf). This study by Ferdik and Kaminski found “Findings illustrate that less restrictive [TASER weapon] policies are associated with increased [TASER weapon] usage and fewer fatal shootings by police.”
Hopefully, you can see from all of my answers in the AMA that I'm not suggesting we have the perfect answer to all problems, but I am willing to stand up for the progress we've made. And I think the data bears that out.
Are you working on laser/plasma weapons that can transmit an electric charge to incapacitate a person? Something similar to the laser-induced plasma channel?
We are not doing much research in laser / plasma weapons per se. We are focusing on alternative approaches, but we are monitoring for progress in the space and would be very open to licensing technology if there's a breakthrough.
How does the tool you offer fundamentally change the distrust relationship between inner-city communities and police forces?
I definitely won’t claim that we have some instant fix for this problem, which is a serious one. What I can offer is this: back when we were first developing body camera technology, there was skepticism from both communities and the police. Communities thought those cameras might become an unfair surveillance tool; police officers were worried that they’d have their every move nit-picked by their bosses. In time, it turned out that body cameras helped improve trust in police, and police officers value them because they give us accurate records of what happened in a particular moment. They aren’t perfect, and we have a lot of work to do, but it’s an example of a technology that can help improve trust between police officers and communities.
Do you have any plan how to make the bullet obsolete within the military?
I believe the military will continue to need lethal weaponry. However, many of the threats we face today are from people intentionally hiding behind innocent civilians. In conflicts like Iraq and Afghanistan, I don't believe we can kill our way to victory. When a person approaching a checkpoint doesn't stop when instructed, a young 18-20 year old American has to decide whether to kill that person, or do nothing. If the soldier shoots and it turns out that this was an innocent person, it is a tragedy that will haunt them for the rest of their lives. And it strategically undermines our mission, fomenting resentment against our presence and undermining support at home for the mission. If the soldier doesn't shoot, and it turns out this was a suicide bomber, now the entire squad could be dead. That is the definition of a no-win situation.
Our military is engaged in complex operations in urban environments that have many similarities to policing. Going into these scenarios with only lethal weapons puts us at strategic disadvantage.
Can you tell me why your company thinks it's ethical to require defense attorneys to sign a EULA to access the public records of their defendants?
Thanks for the question. Every online Software as a Service (Saas) platform has a EULA (End User Licensing Agreement). The EULA is not required for them to access the records, but to use our software platform. It's industry-standard stuff. If they don't want to use the software, then the prosecutor's office will burn a disc with the files and send it to them physically. I am not aware of any online software platform that doesn't have a EULA. If you know of one, please send it my way.
Taser is a great tool, but the success rate isn’t as high as you’d make people think it is. There’s a million and one reasons the taser is not good enough to make anything obsolete, especially a bullet. Nor any other less than lethal option.
First off, arguing to use tasers in lieu of guns, is extremely disingenuous. Tasers can fail for reasons ranging from both prongs not making contact with skin, layers of clothing blocking the prongs all together and a larger amount of the population that’s not effected by a taser or outright not hitting the target. Not to mention certain drugs will all but render a taser useless. Also, the price of a taser is well over $1,000. I can buy two guns and ammunition for that price. And all for a tool that fails on a regular basis?
Watch any number of police body cams and you’ll see just how ineffective a taser really is.
That’s just a simple argument against tasers in less than lethal situations. And we both know that not every confrontation can be ended with a simple less than lethal option. It’s entirely probable and common for attackers to be completely unphased after multiple gunshots to fatal areas. And you think a little taser is even better? I think not.
While tasers are a decent option for self defense, tasers are just not effective as they need to be. You’ll never replace the gun. Because sometimes a real gun is the only way you save your life or the life of a loved one. I open/concealed carry every single day. And while I wouldn’t mind carrying less than lethal options like tasers, when it really comes down to it, it’s just not good enough at its job to trust my life to it. And I damn sure wouldn’t trust my kids life to it.
Of course this isn’t even acknowledging the fact that once you shoot your taser, it’s done with. If you miss, you’re just fucked because there is no second shot. Then there’s the fact that for reasons previously stated on their overall ineffectiveness, what would happen if a woman shoots her taser, trusting your product,’only for it to fail and be used against her by doing a dry shock? Assuming she even bought the $1,500 taser to begin with.
I’ve watched taser after taser after taser fail, I’ve watched people be completely unphased by it. I’ve also watched cops trust tasers to do their jobs only to be the wrong option. There’s a bodycam video of two sheriffs deputies in Oklahoma serving a warrant, they come into a small bedroom where a guy is hiding. One officer had a taser and the other a gun, so they could respond correctly depending on the situation. Well, this guy pops up and before the cop could even get off shots from his gun he was stabbed in the stomach multiple times. Both officers shot this guy, one with a real gun and one with a taser and he was STILL able to make deadly contact.
And story after story can be seen like that. So no, the taser will never replace the gun. Not in a million years.
So here’s my question. What tool can you create or produce that is more effective and more trustworthy than the taser? And why do you think anything taser can provide will be used to replace the gun, considering the staggering amount of reasons why nobody would trust it over a gun?
Your point is completely valid - TASER weapons are not as reliable as a firearm today. The reasons when they are ineffective are usually related to getting a reliable connection to the target. That's an engineering challenge, but its not an impossibility. That's the reason I wrote my book and set forth a moon shot goal of surpassing the reliability of pistols in the next 10 years. The purpose of moonshot goals is to drive people to solve big, challenging problems. I'll bet you a steak dinner that, by 2029 we will deliver a TASER branded weapon that can outperform a standard 9 mm pistol as measured by average time to incapacitation of the subject from the first pull of the trigger. Effectiveness will need to be validated by independent academic review of body camera footage of 100+ uses of police firearms and the future TASER weapon in use in 2029.
Hi Rick, You recently stepped back from body-cam based facial recognition on your LEO devices.
1) Can you explain the thought process behind it
2) Since you are continuing research into the technology, what are your thresholds for switching it back on?
See details above. First gotta see the accuracy issues resolved. Then we need to fully understand the legal implications of when running facial recognition benefits the safety of the public without over stepping privacy rights.
How much of a factor is organized bad PR by competitors in your business? What I mean is news stories written to make your product look bad at the request of your competitors PR departments.
Do you know how often it happens in other industries?
Certainly, there can be organized by PR pushed by competitors. However, a much more insidious issue is bad PR pushed by short sellers in the financial markets. There, the motivation is pure and simple: to make money by pushing the stock lower or even trying to cause a catastrophic event that could bring down the business. If you look back at 2004-2005, when the negative stories about TASER were front-page news on every major newspaper, there was a clearly coordinated (and devastatingly effective) PR campaign being coordinated by short-sellers. (We know this partly because The New York Times cited their information source as being people who would profit if our stock drops.)
What makes negative PR campaigns from short-sellers dangerous is that they can happen in total darkness. What I mean is this: people who buy a large position in a public company's stock much file a public disclosure with the SEC. However, a hedge fund can take a billion-dollar short position, and they never have to disclose it. They could then spend $50 million on a negative PR campaign, and it all happens behind the scenes with zero accountability. It's one reason I am supporting efforts in Congress to create transparency for short sellers: if a hedge fund takes a large position where it can profit from the destruction of value, there should be some oversight.
How do you feel about TASER having employed police officers who failed to disclose financial interests in the company to promote the use of TASERs within the police departments within which they were employed?
Does TASER continue to employ Mr. Halsted, and if so, in what capacity?
First, Mr. Halsted did disclose he had helped us develop our very first training course. His chief and agency were fully supportive. Here's the challenge: when developing training materials for police officers, you need police experts to lead the effort. This can best be accomplished by hiring professional police trainers who have the right expertise. This old (2003) article was a bit of a hit piece on Jim. I stand by him and by our program of engaging police experts to oversee our training material development.
Even though you want to replace the bullet and save lives, your invention has ultimately taken lives as well, either through over use/abuse, drug/intoxication or from a medical condition unknown when deployed on a person. Do you still think the benefits out way the costs?
A study by the Potomac Policy Institute found that, using the most conservative estimates, the ratio of lives saved to lives lost was better for the TASER (somewhere between 70:1 and 700:1) than for automotive airbags (50:1)
Has anyone ever tried to calculate how many lives have been spared already because tasers were used instead of bullets? What's the next big leap in non-lethal alternatives to guns?
edit: I'm going to upvote every comment in this entire thread
Our estimates put it at over 218,000 instances where TASER weapon was used when police were legally justified to use lethal force. This is based on a study out of Dallas that found in about 5.4% of TASER deployments, police were legally justified to use lethal force. We then multiply that rate by the estimated number of TASER uses in the field (now over 4 million) to get to an estimate.
O course, there is no way of knowing how many of those people would have been shot and either killed or seriously injured, but it's a pretty good rough-order-of-magnitude estimate of the number of very high-risk situations resolved with a TASER weapon. (For more details on the estimates and the studies: https://www.axon.com/how-safe-are-taser-weapons)
Was there ever any inspiration from the ‘sticky shockers’ in Splinter Cell?
Funny enough, there was a real product called the “Sticky Shocker” that was developed by a Defense Contractor named Jaycor back in the early 2000s. It was a 40mm projectile launched from a grenade launcher. It contained an electrical stun circuit and used a sticky gel to adhere to the subject and deliver a shock. It never made it into production, though.
We developed a similar projectile, called the XREP (eXtended Range Electronic Projectile) which we introduced in 2007. It was even smaller in size and could be launched from a 12 gauge shotgun. It performed great in the laboratory, but we found it didn't meet performance expectations in the field and we ultimately discontinued it, which was heartbreaking because the technology was pretty amazing.
Hi Rick, I had some questions. First, from the info I could find, tasers run at 60 cycle, which as I'm sure you know, is within the range of stopping the human heart. Why did y'all choose this range? 2nd, with the other info I could find it runs at 3 milliamps, close to the possibly lethal amount of 5 milliamps. Have y'all ever witnessed a taser putting out above 3 miliamps to possibly exceed or touch that 5 milliamps threshold? Also I read where you said that it would need a direct current path through your heart, are you saying the amperage is low enough that skin effect is keeping the current from flowing to the heart?
Thanks for the questions. Not sure where you heard that the TASER weapons run at a 60 hertz cycle—that's pretty far from accurate. A 60 Hz alternating current has a pulse width of about 17 milliseconds. We use a pulse width of less than 0.1 milliseconds specifically to avoid cardiac effects.
Our two design goals are: First, to use enough electricity to cause incapacitation and second, to reduce as much as possible any risk of cardiac effects. All of our R&D on electrical waveforms is focused on maximizing both effectiveness and safety.
What current developments in non-lethal weaponry are you most excited about?
It's in development right now... and will be another big step forward. That's all I can say for now.
Could you see Taser Ball one day being a sport of the Olympics?
Not sure if it will make the Olympics, however, I do think we need to find ways to make non-lethal weapons as “empowering” as lethal weapons. Here's what I mean: Think about the extensive glorification of lethal violence in movies, TV, and the arts in general. I don't say this just to complain about Hollywood, but only to make the point that we human beings are fascinated by violence. There is something very powerful about holding a gun in your hand. And we have analogous extreme sports (like paintball) and video games (pretty much every first-person shooter game) that build our psychological connection to the power of using lethal weapons. If we want to reduce killing in society, I think there's an argument that we need to build up the image of non-lethal weapons and technologies to appeal to the same human fascination with power, but obviously in a less destructive way and with far less destructive consequences.
I admit: I do have some ideas for extreme sports based on non-lethal tech, but you'll have to stay tuned over the next few years as it's not fully baked yet!
Hi Rick, thanks so much for leaning into the Redditsphere
You mentioned phasers from Star Trek, and me being a huge nerd, I immediately wondered if you mentioned ST as a sly way of saying you were inspired by it?
Absolutely! Live long and Prosper.
"..... killing is a thing of the past"
Wow. That line gave me chills. How much money do you need to make this a reality, right now?
It's just a matter of time and effort, not money at this juncture.
Literally billions of rounds are consumed in recreational shooting every year. Compared to the amount of bullets used in attempted murder, perhaps 50,000, the bullets you are worried about account for 0.00001% of used ammunition (if 5B are fired). A high volume recreational shooter like me sees the “make the bullet obsolete” and wonders if this is a gimmicky line or an actual goal?
For use on human subjects... Recreational shooting and hunting are another matter altogether. My goal is to provide equally effective option for self defense that don't carry the terrible burden of using lethal force.
And now, cops use Tasers to kill people by stunning/electrocuting them multiple times in a row. How are your products allowed to be sold and used with apparently no training? Doesn't this bother you? It seems you have no problem with people who have severe medical or mental issues being tased, when obviously that will be detrimental to their health and situation.
You and your product are nothing like the Star Trek fantasies you cling to.
One of my employees has a daughter with mental health issues. She tried to commit suicide by approaching officers while holding a knife and screaming “kill me.” The officers used the TASER, and she is alive today. I am aware of dozens of similar cases, in which a TASER prevented what's called "suicide by cop." Mental health issues are challenging, to say the least. But when police officers arrive on a scene where a person is in the act of harming themselves or someone else, the TASER can frequently be a tool that intervenes and saves a life.
On the topic of training, we provide extensive training to agencies and officers deploying the TASER weapon. In fact, we recently started using Virtual Reality to train officers how to deal with mentally ill subjects by trying to teach empathy to what a schizophrenic or autistic person might be experiencing. (See https://abcnews.go.com/GMA/News/virtual-reality-training-tech-takes-cops-directly-minds/story?id=63125741)