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Police interest in wearable cameras spikes after Ferguson shooting

By Mridhula Raghavan

(Reuters) - Digital Ally Inc has been busy fielding a rush of enquiries from U.S. police departments this past week about its wearable cameras, following the fatal police shooting of an unarmed black teenager that triggered large-scale rioting.

Interest in these tiny video cameras, which can be pinned to shirts, belts or eye-glasses, has surged as pressure mounts on the police for a transparent investigation into the Aug. 9 shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a white policeman in Ferguson, Missouri.

A petition on the White House website calling for state, county and local police to be required to wear a camera has received 130,350 signatures since it was uploaded on Aug. 13.

"We have had a lot more enquiries because of the civil unrest that is going on over in Ferguson," Digital Ally Chief Executive Stanton Ross told Reuters.

Larger rival Taser International Inc, best known for its stun guns, said it did not have data yet to gauge interest in the past 10 days.

But CEO Rick Smith said he expects an increase in interest for the company's wearable cameras over the next six months "because of the events that are happening today."

The total addressable market for wearable video cameras is about $500 million in North America, he estimated.

Shares of both the companies have soared since the Ferguson incident. Up to Tuesday's close, Digital Ally's shares nearly doubled since Aug. 8, a day before the fatal shooting. Taser shares rose 30 percent in the same period.

Some law-enforcement agencies are already using these rugged cameras.

The San Diego police department purchased 300 body-worn video cameras from Taser in May and signed up for a five-year data management subscription.

"We have had very positive feedback from the officers who are using (body cameras) in the field," Lt. Kevin Mayer, spokesperson for the San Diego police department, said in an emailed statement.

Taser introduced its cameras about five years ago, but demand has been slow so far. The devices and cloud storage combined contributed about 12 percent to Taser's total revenue of $37.2 million in the June quarter.

Digital Ally's wearable cameras accounted for about 9 percent of its total sales of $3.4 million in the same period.

"On-officer video is still in its infancy but appears to be accelerating and we think that Taser is well-positioned to be a market leader in the space," JP Morgan Securities analyst Paul Coster said in a note to clients.

Part of the reason demand hasn't taken off is the cost. Apart from the device itself, which sells for $399-$795, customers need to buy cloud space to store the footage.

Some of these cameras are also tamper-proof - recorded video cannot be edited or deleted.

Taser said it charged a U.S. police department $400,000 for a recent 100-unit purchase including a 5-year cloud storage contract.

The additional cost might still be worth it.

Cambridge University's study of the Rialto, California police department's use of wearable cameras showed that complaints against police fell drastically and civilians behaved better when being videotaped.

Barak Ariel, a lecturer in the university's criminology department who headed the study, said the use of body-worn videos was a strong deterrent against suspects and officers violating guidelines and regulations.

(Reporting by Mridhula Raghavan in Bangalore; Editing by Feroze Jamal and Saumyadeb Chakrabarty)

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