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How one company aims to take the guesswork out of police shootings

As calls intensify for greater police accountability, one company aims to monitor a cop’s most controversial tool.

“At Yardarm Technologies, the leader of firearm safety technology for law enforcement, we’ve developed an advanced new tool that gives the law enforcement’s firearms the ability to talk to commanders, and tell the true story of any engagement as it happens,” a company promotional video explains.

The response to Michael Brown’s killing by Officer Darren Wilson on August 9th – and the uproar over a grand jury’s decision not to indict Wilson – might have unfolded differently if there had been a firmer record of the moments surrounding the shooting.

In an interview with Fusion, Yardarm Technology’s Marketing Vice President Jim Schaff walked through what they’re building to track police weapons.

“Our technology is actually a sensor. It’s a piece of electronics that fits into the back of the weapon,” Schaff said. “This gun will be transmitting that information to me in real time, so that if an officer draws or fires this in the line of duty, Dispatch can be immediately aware of what’s happening.”

Yardarm Technologies didn’t always target the law enforcement market. They aimed for the consumer market first, with a sensor that would notify a gun owner’s cell phone when their weapon moved and allow them to disable it. But features monitoring personal guns proved to be a misfire.

Schaff explained that the company received pushback from many different interest groups, and that they felt the power of the “polarized” market before pivoting to a specialty product for police. Yet obstacles remain.

“It’s the same concern you have for any other technology being proposed for firearms,” Schaff said. “The concern of putting something electronic between the mechanical operation and the firearm.”

Tests among police in Santa Cruz are putting some concerns to rest. Officers there see that the technology doesn’t inhibit gun functionality at all, and it may protect them in the event of a conflict that would be hard to recreate otherwise for supervisors, lawyers, and the public. Schaff is very conscious of the need to work with police unions and other naturally skeptical parties, but he also has a base of support.

“I think we need to create accountability in every way we can and use every potential technologies that there are to solve this problem,” said Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project who has worked on police monitoring issues.

The Obama administration recently called for $263 million in funding for police body cameras, though even those seeking further police accountability acknowledge technology’s limitations.

“These issues aren’t going away because we put technology in place,” Stanley said. “If we’re not careful, technologies can make some of them worse. But we do it right and protect policy then these technologies can be a really good thing.”

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