When I worked as an EMT in Fairfax, the radios we were issued had a big orange button on the top that we were never supposed to press. Unless we really needed it. That button was our lifeline — each radio was assigned to a specific person in a specific unit, and along with the GPS in the rig was the “bat-signal” to send every available police officer and fire & rescue unit to our location ASAP. I only needed to press it once in my career there, and I was thankful that it not only worked as advertised but also that it didn’t require me to do any thinking on my part in the heat of the moment. A new device from a company named Yardarm is seeking to do the same thing, but with guns . . .
The concept is that a small computerized system is slotted into the wasted space in the heel of a GLOCK handgun (or similar firearm). That system connects via Bluetooth to the officer’s phone, and not only provides up-to-the-minute location data back to the precinct for tracking purposes but also alerts the rest of the police department when something goes terribly wrong. As soon as the officer draws their gun, it can fire off an alert to send backup. It can also record how many rounds have been fired and provide that information in real time. From the company’s website:
The company’s Yardarm Sensor, the world’s first wireless sensor for firearms, introduces an entirely new level of miniaturization and power optimization for wireless telephony and advanced machine-to-machine (M2M) capabilities. The Yardarm Sensor connects firearms to the Yardarm Cloud and delivers telemetry that allows for real-time geo-location and event awareness that can then be delivered to any end-point via the Cloud. The Yardarm solution gives law enforcement, private security, and the military the capability to track and monitor their organization’s firearms in real-time, connecting them to computer aided dispatch (CAD) centers, real-time crime centers (RTCC), or edge devices such as smartphones, tablets, or laptops. By instantly alerting commanders and command centers of critical events in the field, Yardarm allows organizations to respond and support officers in the field faster than ever before, greatly enhancing efficiency and officer safety.
The Yardarm Sensor connects to the Yardarm Cloud via GSM and provides a set of powerful data streams that can be imported into the industry’s leading CAD and RTCC software solutions via standard APIs. These sensor readings, all available in real-time, include:
Geo-Location – Event based location awareness and history for real-time alerts and post crime scene review and analysis
Holster/Unholster – When an officer unholsters his weapon, dispatch can be immediately notified and officers in the field can see when and where a colleague may require assistance
Discharge – There is no more critical event in the field than an officer discharging their weapon. Alerts are immediately sent to dispatch and can be sent to a commander directly via mobile alerts
Direction of Fire/Aim – Track and record the direction of aim, providing real-time tactical value for commanders and providing crime scene investigators valuable data for prosecution
Yardarm + Glock 22
Yardarm has developed the most sophisticated approach to wireless gun safety available in the market. The Yardarm solution is built on internally developed machine-to-machine (“M2M”) technologies and applications, intellectual property and patent-pending processes.
The device is cool, but it’s a double edged sword.
For the intended purpose, it’s awesome.
In this post-Ferguson world of increased wariness of police, the idea that no officer can draw their gun without the department being notified is definitely a benefit. Along with body mounted recording devices like the Taser Axon Flux, it can provide more accountability for the people we entrust to uphold the law. The ACLU predictably has their knickers in a twist about tracking people while they’re on the job and spying on what they do, but when New York City taxi drivers are more closely tracked than people charged with using deadly force to enforce the law there might be some room for improvement.
It’s also brilliant as an emergency warning system, allowing officers to deal with the imminent threat in front of them instead of trying to communicate over the radio and call for backup all at the same time. It simplifies the officer’s life in a time when they really need to focus on the tasks at hand (staying alive and stopping the threat), which will no doubt improve survivability.
However, there are also some potential issues for gun owners down the line.
While this isn’t a “smart gun” in the sense that we’ve seen before, it’s definitely smart-er. This product and others like it could seem like a Godsend to politicians, who imagine a world where every firearm can be instantly tracked and every gun owner monitored. We could very well see legislation proposed requiring gun owners to fit their firearms with this kind of technology, and even eventually the same kind of remote “kill switch” requirement currently demanded of smart phones. For a group of people who have a very strong independent streak and don’t like a whole lot of government interference, that could be a major issue.
It’s true that there are circumstances in which this might be a good idea for gun owners as well as police departments (being able to track stolen firearms and recover them), but the potential for overreach is very real. If a police department is given access to that same data feed, it could lead to all kinds of privacy issues for gun owners. Especially when you start walking down the garden path a little bit and consider preemptive alarms.
What if we could set off an alarm whenever a gun came within so many feet of a school? How about if a gun was detected at an airport? These are ideas that may seem great on the surface, but will no doubt lead to headaches when the GPS sensor isn’t reporting accurate data. Arresting someone because their gun claimed they were on school grounds when they were actually safe at home sounds like a legal nightmare for the gun owner.
Then you get to the criminal element. No one’s personal data is ever private on the internet, from nude pictures to credit card numbers. There’s always a way to get at it and when that way is found for the Yardarm, the flood gates are open. If the Journal News’ map of New York street addresses with firearms permits wasn’t bad enough, criminals could pinpoint every gun owner’s house and even possibly track them down on the street to ambush them for their firearm.
I’m not convinced that this is all doom and gloom — there’s some real potential for benefits to both police officers and gun owners here. But there’s also some real potential for abuse by the government, demanding that every firearm and firearm owner be tracked at all times. That’s an Orwellian future that I’d like to try and avoid. In the meantime the devices are going into small scale tests with two police departments (one in California and one in Texas), so we’ll see how well they hold up in the real world.