City favors Taser for new APD lapel cameras

Copyright © 2016 Albuquerque Journal

Albuquerque officials said they’ve reached a tentative, multimillion dollar decision to have Taser International supply Albuquerque police with on-body cameras, but they said this deal is “diametrically different” from a prior one and still faces review by the inspector general and City Council.

Taser entered into a $2 million no-bid contract with the city in 2013. That deal led to a criminal investigation because the former chief of police started doing consulting work for Taser while on the city’s payroll and other police officials received perks from Taser, like a free trip to Scottsdale, Ariz., the company’s home.

Gilbert Montaño, Mayor Richard Berry’s chief of staff, said in a conference call with the Journal on Friday that Taser was chosen this time only after it responded to a competitive request for proposal by the city and a monthslong review of Taser and other camera systems by a selection committee that included police officers, city officials from various departments, a university researcher and a member of a Community Police Councils and a civilian police oversight investigator.

He said Taser would provide 2,000 cameras along with cloud storage. Each officer would be issued two of the devices under the three-year contract. He said there are two one-year renewal options, and protection under which the city would receive technology ungrades for no additional cost.

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Montaño said nine companies responded to the city’s bid and the selection committee considered four. The city wouldn’t name the other companies that responded to the bid.

Montaño said the city still plans to have its inspector general review the deal and submit it to City Council for approval before it’s finalized.

“We wanted to protect the integrity of the process but also maintain the practical need for these on-body cameras,” Montaño said. “This process is diametrically different from the last process.”

The new cameras are sorely needed, city officials said.

The current inventory is near the end of its useful life and City Attorney Jessica Hernandez said Friday that police may have to equip new officers with audio recorders until the new cameras arrive. She said the audio devices would meet requirements under the city’s consent agreement with the Department of Justice.

At the earliest, Montaño said the city and Taser can finalize the deal in late February or March and have new cameras in the field soon after.

Officials from Taser couldn’t be reached for comment on Friday.

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Albuquerque police in 2012 became one of the first big-city police departments in the country to equip all its officers with cameras. But the department came under fire after city and state watchdog groups found that former Chief Ray Schultz, whose administration negotiated the deal with Taser, made presentations on the company’s products while on the city’s payroll – although he was on early retirement. The Office of the State Auditor and the city’s Inspector General’s Office and the Office of Internal Audit all found problems with the contract, including that Schultz may have violated state laws.

Attorney General Hector Balderas announced his office would investigate the city deal’s with Taser. Grand jury subpoenas served on city officials in 2015 showed that the grand jury was reviewing emails, payroll stubs, memos and other records about the contract. No indictments have been handed up.

James Hallinan, a spokesman for Balderas, said the investigation is ongoing.

Schultz, meanwhile, is the assistant chief of the Memorial Villages Police Department in Texas and has said he did nothing wrong.

Since they were rolled out in 2012, on-body cameras have become a large part of policing in Albuquerque. Recordings have been used to exonerate officers when people make unfounded complaints against them. They’ve also led officers to be charged with crimes, and they are often introduced as evidence in criminal cases.

Montaño said no one from the chief’s office or the Mayor’s Office was on the selection committee that concluded the Taser cameras should be purchased, for an amount not yet determined.

The city’s Request for Proposals was 64 pages and asked that the cameras have the ability to record for six hours at a time, have at least a 12-hour battery life, a one-touch recording system and safeguards to prevent them from accidently turning off.

The selection committee’s voting members were Stephanie Yarra, who works for the City Council, Sgt. Jim Edison, a Northeast Area command field services officer, Cmdr. Jeff McDonald, in the Scientific Evidence Division, Candace Bisanga, an officer in the Southeast Area command, Paul Guerin, a researcher at the University of New Mexico, Doug Brosveen, a member of the Community Policing Council and Paul Skotchdople, a lead investigator with the Civilian Police Oversight Agency.

As part of the review, officers who work in field services, gangs, narcotics and tactical teams tested various on-body camera products.

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