Axon Citizen becomes Axon Community Request
Dec 28, 2022
Five years after pioneering responsible digital evidence collection, Axon Citizen evolves into Axon Community Request, with new features that solidify commitment to transparency, data privacy
In 2017, Axon embarked on a journey to empower community members to play a more active role in keeping their neighborhoods safe. We created Axon Citizen, a secure public evidence portal that allows community members to voluntarily help solve specific investigations.
This software was developed in response to an emerging trend in public safety: The growing prominence of digital evidence throughout the justice system, particularly with the proliferation of mobile phones in nearly all communities. Axon Citizen pioneered a secure and transparent way for public safety to request digital files from the public while also ensuring that public participation was voluntary and only used in connection with investigations of specific crimes.
Over the past five years, Axon Citizen has proven to be a responsibly used resource, with more than 100,000 users around the world making 2.5 million community requests per year.
When presented with the idea of public evidence sharing, most people express solid support— provided that sharing is optional, transparent and connected to a specific investigation. We know this both through direct feedback from our public surveys [see sidebar]as well as what we’ve learned through our commitment to product design practices that include listening to community voices, and valuing the lived experience of those most impacted by policing.
From listening to community members, for example, Axon has learned that many people in heavily policed communities feel they are already over-surveilled. Therefore, we must establish protections that help build trust — such as mandating privacy controls within our technology and ensuring that any requests for evidence are connected to specific investigations. The ultimate goal is to ensure that violent crime is solved through the equitable deployment of innovative technologies.
We have also heard from public safety agencies about the time-consuming nature of their work — where time to justice is often lengthened by the volume of evidence needed, or inability to collect evidence. Axon Citizen has reduced police hours on specific cases, so police can solve more violent crimes, and have more time to focus on building community relationships.
Looking ahead: Axon Community Request — more than just a new name
Axon Citizen is evolving intoAxon Community Request, reflecting a more inclusive name and additional capabilities. Based upon direct feedback from law enforcement and communities,Axon Community Request brings forward new features to make it easier for public safety agencies to use, and for community members to opt in.
A more streamlined and policy compliant user experience
The new Axon Community Request experience streamlines how public safety agencies request assistance while doing an even better job of ensuring compliance with each agency’s policies for when different types of community requests can be made.
Now, in one unified workflow, officers can combine the existing Citizen features of (1) inviting individuals to optionally submit evidence, as well as (2) initiating a public portal for the broader community to potentially submit evidence for the same specific investigation.
As always, 100% of Community Requests that agencies create are logged and auditable.
Additionally, every public evidence submission from a community member is uploaded directly into the agency's digital evidence management system, hosted within Axon's secure cloud. This process ensures compliance with government chain of custody protocols.
Setting a high bar for equitable public evidence submission with the Open Request Portal API
The ethical design parameters for Axon Community Request considers:
- The balance between the need for public transparency and the right to privacy
- The need to enable public safety to gather evidence to solve violent crimes swiftly, with the need to prevent erroneous or biased evidence submissions, and
- The need to ensure the integrity of evidence, complying with government chain of custody protocols.
Historically, there hasn't been a way for public evidence submissions of private camera footage that fully meets these ethical design parameters. Whether public safety officers physically knock on doors, asking if a member of the public has evidence related to a specific local crime, or another independent digital submission tool is being used, both the community member and the officer would have to download and re-upload this evidence before it eventually makes its way into the official digital evidence management system where the agency manages its cases. This process not only costs detectives time, but also can break the chain of custody on the evidence, creating questions about its integrity. In addition, the process as it currently exists is not auditable every step of the way.
To modernize the current approach, Axon Community Request introduces a new, open and secure application programming interface (API) that offers a more seamless, neutral and secure platform for requesting and obtaining public camera footage.
We are calling this API the Open Request Portal.This vendor-agnostic tool is an auditable two-way service, enabling law enforcement agencies to transparently request and receive evidence directly from members of a community in close-proximity to an active investigation. From the community member side, the service enables community members to opt in at their sole discretion, while also creating reasonable privacy protections and transparency about how the footage will be used.
Open Request Portal:
- Standardizes access to public safety, setting stringent security criteria for providers: Axon now enables any camera provider to adopt our APIs, on the condition that the third party adopts and agrees to stringent security criteria. Providers that plug into the Axon Community Request service solve the integrity challenges caused by downloading and re-uploading private footage.*
- Builds transparency controls into the software: The software tracks request data in a public portal, so that it’s apparent to community users which law enforcement agencies are submitting requests for evidence. Tracked data includes the details of those requests at a macro-level (naming the type of crime investigation, for instance, but guarding private data) and the agency-specific policies related to collecting evidence from the public.
- Discouraging arbitrary or “tattle-tale” use: This software does not accept arbitrary submissions of videos from the public. Axon Community Request and the Open Request Portal are designed to support specific, ongoing investigations. Members of the public cannot proactively share videos through this software without a corresponding request from law enforcement for a specific incident.
Overall, Axon is dedicated to ensuring that our products and services are used to improve public safety, while also protecting the privacy and security of individuals. Axon Citizen has helped us achieve these goals for five years, and we're excited to innovate forward with Axon Community Request.
Through our commitment to ethical product design, that centers on innovation, equity, transparency, data privacy and security, we are proud to be leading the way in the development of responsible technologies that help make our communities safer.
*All camera providers follow a stringent criteria to ensure they must:
- Protect user privacy: Solicitations are designed to ensure that law enforcement agencies cannot see any user’s identity, contact information, footage or notifications unless a user chooses to share footage. Only then will the user’s address location and email address be provided to the agency that requested the footage.
- Allow users to opt in or out of receiving solicitation notifications from the Open Request Portal at any time: Camera users must be in complete control of how, when, and if they receive solicitation notifications from the Open Request Portal and have the ability to update their settings at any time.
- Limit solicitation notifications to participating users: Camera providers shall not send any Open Portal Request solicitations to users that have opted out of participation.
- Only send notifications to participating users within the geographic area of the Open Request Portal solicitation: Providers can only notify participating users with a camera within the geographical boundaries of the Open Portal request and cannot solicit beyond that boundary.
- Receive solicitations from Open Request Portal in the standard format used across the entire system: All requests must have a written justification or rationale for why the request is being made and include the investigator and agency name, title and contact information, the incident categorization and specific case number and a general address of the location associated with the incident. The request must also provide the geographic boundary of the request, which cannot exceed 0.5 square miles and the specific footage request must be within 12 hours of the incident occurrence. Agencies have up to 45 days after the date of the incident to submit a solicitation.