Council approves APD body cams through Axon (formerly Taser)

Passed on the Austin City Council's consent agenda Thursday morning: a 60-month contract with Taser International.  The price tag not to exceed $4 million.

"What that does is give the Austin Police Department and the City of Austin the ability to move forward with buying our first round of body cameras which this is for about 724 cameras," said Assistant Chief Ely Reyes.

The cameras, along with cloud storage, equipment maintenance and support.

Reyes says they're coming soon.

"So we're looking at in the next coming months having the first phase of deployments and so we're going to have 3 phases of deployments included in this initial 724 cameras," Reyes said.

Reyes says some officers already have their own body-worn cameras.  And some working downtown have department-issued ones. 

Taser International has changed its name to Axon.  We spoke with Axon spokesperson Steve Tuttle by way of Skype.  He says the cameras may have a more profound effect than just recording video.

"What they're theorizing is that these body cameras...just like when I'm on TV I improve my posture, I smile and I'm more professional.  When officers wear these, they're more professional," Tuttle said.

He says the same goes for civilians who get pulled over.  They see they're on camera and tensions may not arise.

Nelson Linder with the Austin NAACP says Thursday's decision is long overdue.  He's been advocating for body cams since 2011.

"The more the better, we need to see what people are doing on both sides of the issue so it's a win-win situation.  It took too long in Austin," Linder said.  "You see cases like Byron Carter Junior.  Which is very important downtown.  No footage.  You've got the cops point of view of those cases and so you're missing a lot of civilian involvement.  We want to see everything.”

Tuttle says the company is working on technology that would eliminate paperwork for officers -- instead letting the body cameras paint a more accurate picture.

"Up to two-thirds of an officer's time is spent doing paperwork and yet these things are recording better information than from paperwork.  And I don't think anybody got into policing to spend time at a keyboard for two-thirds of their day," Tuttle said.

Not everyone is on board with this.  Another body camera company Utility Associates says the city ran an illegal procurement process and they favored Taser. 
               
Utility filed suit which stalled the body camera talks for a while.
               
Recently a Texas Court of Appeals ruled against Utility, paving the way for today's decision.

Read City of Austin to move forward with police body cameras after court ruling
               
Utility is expected to challenge that.  They sent Fox 7 a statement:

Utility Associates, Inc. is engaged in ongoing litigation with the City of Austin regarding the City’s illegal procurement of police body-worn cameras.  The City provided unfair favorable treatment to a single bidder – Taser International – and the City awarded Taser the contract notwithstanding that Taser’s product lacked at least seven of the City’s mandatory capabilities, and Taser’s price was the highest cost option.  By the City’s own admission, Utility’s product includes all of the City’s mandatory capabilities, and it is will save the City almost $8 million to deploy as compared to Taser’s product.

We, together with a local taxpayer, are challenging the City’s illegal procurement process, and have received favorable rulings from five different District Court judges.  On four separate occasions we won injunctive relief in the Texas courts.  That relief first prevented the City from moving forward with the illegal Taser contract, and then was expanded to prevent the City from procuring police body-worn cameras from any source.  The expanded relief resulted from the City’s attempt to do an end run around the original injunction by skipping the competitive RFP process altogether and doing a direct “Buyboard” purchase of body-worn cameras from Taser International.

Last month the Court of Appeals ruled that despite the evidence of intentional illegal acts by the City, this matter is not reviewable by the Courts because of sovereign immunity laws.  We respectfully disagree with the Third Court of Appeals’ conclusions and have initiated the process to have its order reviewed by the Texas Supreme Court. 

Today the City is engaging in the exact behavior that was stopped by the expanded injunction of the District Court and the Third Court of Appeals.  Specifically, the Austin City Council is slated to approve today a 5-year $4 million purchase of police body-worn cameras from Taser International using a Texas Association of School Boards BuyBoard.  This action by the City is outrageous and is an affront not only to companies such as ours who come to Austin expecting to be treated fairly, but to the taxpayers as well.  All Travis County taxpayers should know that if the City completes the BuyBoard purchase:

1. The City will be paying full list price for the Taser body-worn cameras and related support.  There is Zero discount or savings on this purchase.

2. The City will be purchasing an inferior product that does not meet its own minimum standards.  It is less safe for police officers and less safe for the public. Among other things, video captured by the Taser product can be manipulated prior to being stored as evidence. This evidence manipulation is not possible with Utility’s product.

3. The City will be in contempt of the injunctive relief orders issued by the Texas courts and that remain in effect during our appeal to the Supreme Court.
 
The City of Austin ran an illegal procurement using a corrupt process.  It has and continues to show complete disregard for the rule of law. We will continue to fight for what is fair and just for our company and for the taxpayers of Travis County.

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