As Ferguson protests continue, Taser shares soar

The ongoing protests in Ferguson, Missouri may help spur change in police departments across the country, and boost one company in the bargain.

As the turbulence continues after an officer shot and killed an unarmed black teenager, advocates are calling for more body-mounted police cameras to monitor interactions between officers and citizens. That is leading investors to pile into shares of Taser International (TASR), the main manufacturer of the cameras used by police departments.

Taser's stock price climbed nearly 10 percent on Friday and another 5 percent Monday to close at $14.68. Shares are still down from the $20 they reached last spring, but have turned sharply upward over the last week.

There is no footage of the shooting in Ferguson that took the life of 18-year-old Michael Brown. The Ferguson police department did have a supply of body-worn cameras but had not yet deployed them to officers, The Wall Street Journal reports.

"The stock is running on speculation that more police officers may be wearing these things," Brian Ruttenbur, an analyst with CRT Capital Group, told Bloomberg. "It's directly related to what's happening in Missouri."

Body-worn cameras account for only a fraction of Taser's revenue. Most of the company's sales come from the stun guns that the company calls "conducted electrical weapons," or CEWs. But the company's video arm is growing quickly, more than doubling in the spring quarter to about $4.5 million in net sales.

Some police officers oppose the implementation of body-worn cameras, saying they fall off and can interfere with duty, but police departments are quickly embracing the technology. Taser's bookings for its video unit rose almost twofold last quarter, Businessweek reports, propelled by contracts in San Diego and smaller cities in North Carolina and South Carolina.

The American Civil Liberties Union is also on board. "Everybody wishes right now there was a video record of what happened" in Ferguson, Jay Stanley, author of an ACLU white paper supporting the cameras, told Businessweek.

In Rialto, California, the use of body-mounted cameras led to a 60 percent drop in the use of force by officers, The Journal reports, while citizen complaints against police fell by 88 percent.

The price of the cameras has fallen to between $300 and $400 as Taser wages a competitive battle with another camera maker, Vievu. Both companies also charge a monthly subscription fee to store the video in the cloud, The Journal reports. Taser stores its video data on Amazon's (AMZN) cloud service.

The hardware and technology are getting so cheap, in fact, that police departments may soon be able to deploy their own systems or use a product like Google Glass, The Journal reports. That could throw more competition Taser's way. But for now, investors are betting that a Ferguson-fueled wave of adoption will send the company's stock higher.

  • Kim Peterson

    Kim Peterson is a financial journalist covering business and the economy. She has written for several online and print publications, including MSN Money and The Seattle Times.

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