Colored drawing by Anthony Jensen

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Sheriff Debbie?

A few have caught on that I am the Green Party candidate for the Travis County Sheriff, but most haven't yet.  (Wha? Huh? Yup. Lol).

Because of my role as a Del Valle ISD trustee (and the de-facto electee for my seat come this November for another four years, as no one challenged me), I initially put my name in for Sheriff as a placeholder for the party, but wasn't successful in recruiting another to take my place. A few that I asked considered it, but have many other activists roles that took precedent, so *tag* I'm it!

You may be wondering, don't you have to be a peace officer to be sheriff? Nope. Not in Texas. So let's take advantage of this and talk about the issues cops rarely touch.

While I'm not diving deep into a campaign (this blog will act as my website, but have a FB page too), I do believe it is necessary to offer a modicum of a challenge to the presumptive winner in November, Sally Hernandez, the Democratic nominee.  I'll dig into why in future posts.

But for now, I wanted to share my answers for the League of Women Voters Guide - to be published soon:


Please explain your plan for deportation of undocumented persons?

It is not the Sheriff's job to deport anyone. The question is, "how will I handle ICE detainers?" The current Sheriff has been vocal in his support of the disgraced "Secure Communities" (and its re-branded "Priority Enforcement Program"), not recognizing the human consequences or legal liability to the TCSO. The law says that we don't detain anyone beyond the initial 48 hours without a judicial warrant, not just an ICE “request. “ ICE has to prove they are a danger to the public safety and a flight risk. The 14th amendment ensures due process for ALL persons, not just citizens.

What are your proposals for tackling challenges such as enhancing collaboration among the Sheriff’s Office, the City Council, the County Commissioners, and the community?

I've long been engaged in this effort as a community organizer. As a DVISD school board trustee, I've successfully worked with TCSO/Council/Commissioners/community on many fronts.  The current Sheriff has done some good work to this end; my plan is to keep what's working/put to bed what's not, and bring in community members who have effective projects and advisors for improved coalition-building tactics.  Recently, I've been engaged with APD and council on community-input on APD policy; on their budget and on community inclusion into the new Austin city manager selection process.

Please explain how you think the Sheriff’s Office can contribute to improving race relations?

Teach by example. But to be teachers, you have to not only do your job well, and according to the policy which precludes racial profiling (yet the numbers show they do it anyway), you have to actively learn how to "undo racism." This is not a feel-good term...this is an active program that all deputies will be mandated to participate in upon my election (as is currently proposed for all COA employees). I also have plans for effective community policing, one with concrete goals and quantifiable results. This will serve both the deputies and the community immensely by helping to rebuild trust.

Many mentally ill persons are in jail instead of treatment. How do you propose to remedy this situation?

Advocate via the aforementioned collaborative process for more funding for more services to divert them from our jail. Most of the revolving door to our jail is due to untreated mental health issues...it's pennies on the taxpayer dollar to house them in long or short term treatment facilities. Also, judging by the recent suicide of a Travis deputy and the arrest of a WilCo deputy for domestic abuse, we need to offer/de-stigmatize mental health support in-house. We don't screen applicants for psychopathy (there's a significant overlap between that and physical abuse). I will change this.

What issues within your County need the most attention? What solutions will you pursue?


No one should be in jail that's not an actual public safety threat. Our "cite and release" policy for small amounts of marijuana was a good start. I will rewrite policy to (highly) encourage maximum legal discretion for all drug arrests. Decriminalization = less "crime" = less need for jail space. Divert resources to treatment. TCSO offers 100% of low-level drug offenders confidential informant status, so they go buy/do more drugs on our watch & dime instead of getting treatment. I will stop this. Shouldn't the Travis County Sheriff be progressive on the drug war, not engender drug use/abuse?




Thursday, September 1, 2016

Ditch Taser, Let's Get Good Body Cameras Now

image: Austin Chronicle

(My email to Council, with an abbreviated version delivered in person at today's council meeting during the budget hearing-Item 44, 23:50 in...I also spoke earlier in the day about the process for selecting the new city manager, Item 35, 14:45 in):

Council,

What I’m asking today is: allow for the funds for the body cameras in the budget; put an item on the next council agenda to approve the Utility, Assoc. proposal or bring them in first for the demonstration they should have gotten according to the plural “top vendors” of the RFP…then put it on the agenda and approve it - before the November trial date (so it will be canceled). 

We’re almost done negotiating a pretty good policy – let’s put this Taser mess aside and go forth with the better product at a WAY better price.

By approving the Utility bodycam contract now, you can not only avoid wasting more money on a lawsuit the City's sure to lose, you can fund other public safety needs with the nearly $9 million in savings, like the under-funded EMS, libraries, parks, after school programs…and can afford to not cut funds from forensics as is currently proposed, but invest in it: in better systems and better oversight. Also, some could be used to fund the DNA lab rape kit backlog, which is a separate item from the APD funding. 

Let’s solve more cases and fund more prevention efforts.

Sufficient funding was already approved to move forward with Utility: you didn't approve the Taser contract in June, you approved the funds ($12.2 million) ...but now we know you didn't approve enough for the Taser contract, as Taser left out the full 8 years of costs and Procurement did nothing to correct this, AND Taser did not include the iPods that were thrown at you last minute, which Procurement also knew about.

You were COMPLETELY misled by James Scarboro, head of Procurement, and possibly others, to which I’ll leave for investigators to determine.

The City confirmed at the Aug. 3rd TRO hearing that Utility met all of the mandatory requirements, so Council has the absolute authority to award this RFP to Utility without further input from Purchasing.

Here’s why Taser should have been disqualified and doesn’t deserve any more of our time/energy, in court or otherwise:
  • Taser submitted an incomplete RFP, not filling out the pricing form, and instead, including their own spreadsheet, which failed to calculate the full breakdown of costs such that no one could check the lone total amounts they submitted, giving them an unwarranted cost advantage on its face over the other vendors. Yet staff didn’t disqualify them (as they did other vendors with one infraction), nor did they seek a corrected version/additional information from Taser…passing on this incomplete info to evaluators and Council, such that y'all were unaware of the additional costs involved when you voted for approval.
  • Taser should have been disqualified for not meeting RFP mandate 1.1, as they didn't have a "mobile viewing device" included in the proposal. Up until 15 minutes prior to council voting on June 23rd, they did not have a solution (it was not included in their addenda product list issued that very morning)—at the last second, they decided they could use an iPod Touch as this device. This is the reason y'all went ahead and passed it instead of delaying the vote AGAIN to further investigate the inconsistencies, and to provide Utility, Assoc., with a chance to demonstrate their equipment; something they were denied despite the RFP stating the top vendorS would be brought in for this - not just one. 
  • Procurement lied about the mobile viewing device/iPod Touches being included in Taser’s RFP. An email between procurement and Taser clearly stated: "The price of the iPods was NOT included in the proposal" and ("NOT" in ALL CAPS as Judge Naranjo noted at the hearing), but staff reported to city council it was anyway at the June 23rd council meeting and in the appeal answers to Utility.  Then Scarboro lied under oath about what that email said, or  a lawyer would say, "obfuscated" with his consistent response, "that's not our interpretation.” The Judge was none too happy about that. See below transcript segment...it's a doozy.
(notice Taser's sign off: "Protect Life, Protect Truth" -- irony much?)
  • In the hearing, Scarboro also goes back and forth on whether this was a public safety procurement as a red herring legal strategy to try to knock out the TRO. He knows it's not because that requires several steps including Austin City Council approval, according to the procurement code, but he testified that it was a public safety procurement anyway. 
  • There’s one more thing…and it’s the most damning of all; but I can’t reveal this now as it’s being saved for trial.
As you can see, the lawsuit is MUCH more than a "pause in the process" as you were told yesterday (at 92:38 in). You are still being seriously misled.

Austin can avoid more lawsuit costs and get body cameras much sooner, if we just approve Utility instead of losing in trial and having to start all over again—putting off body cameras for at least another year.

COST/SAVINGS

COUNCIL APPROVED: $12.2 million
Taser's corrected bid + iPhone = $20.4 million
Taser's corrected bid + iPod = $16.7 million
(Taser confirmed in that email that “the PD can purchase any iOS or Android device” 
like the phones they already have, so they need only iPhones or iPods, not both, but they have to have iPods to after-the-fact meet mandate 1.1)

Utility’s bid = $9.6 million, or to year 8: $11.5 million
-- leaving money leftover from June vote
Utility's savings:  $8.9M or $5.2M respectively

While you’re at it, if you reverse the iPhone approval (based on the misinfo that they did/didn't need it to make the Taser bodycam system work), then we're talking about $10.2 million in savings.  Remember there are no apps they need for any of this system that can't be found for the android phones they already have.

We could do a LOT to help people with $10+ million dollars to avoid sending them into the obscenely expensive justice system.


 FROM AUG. 3rd TRO HEARING TRANSCRIPT

(It seems the RFP process involves a lot of subjective interpretation -- and Scarboro is SO very 'understanding' of the rest of us not getting that. The judge, not so understanding...):

Judge Naranjo: I'm going <back> to the iPods.  And it says -- and I'm specifically looking at the answer. It says: "The price of the iPods was not included in the proposal."  That seems pretty clear that it wasn't included in the numbers that they gave you. I'm just trying to understand -- and then it adds that the cost of $199 per iPod.  I'm trying to understand where do you, in that language, determine that it was included in the proposal?

Witness James Scarboro: Your Honor, I could certainly see how somebody can come to that interpretation.

Judge Naranjo: I'm looking at it and that was in caps. And since it says the price of the iPod was not included in the proposal, the cost is $199 per iPod. That seems to me that just -- that it would be extra.

Scarboro: I understand.

Judge Naranjo: Huh?

Scarboro: I understand the interpretation, our interpretation. And when I discussed it with Ms. Vincent and with other individuals that are in our office that were associated with this particular procurement, their interpretation was, they were just confirming the iPod was included with the offer as being within the price offer already and not priced separately. But I do understand –

Judge Naranjo: But that's not what it says.

Scarboro: I understand.


Judge Naranjo: All right. That's the only question I have.


------end transcript segment------

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Police Accountability Slips from our Fingers Once Again


Police body cameras are widely held by both police and the public to be a necessary tool for accountability. When exploring the options, it becomes clear there are many questions to be answered before purchasing the cameras and crafting policy. For example, from a technological standpoint, various technologies and vendors provide for more or less officer discretion when it comes to activating the camera and uploading the footage. From a policy standpoint, the governing body must decide on who and when to photograph or not, and if to release the footage and to whom, so it's vitally important the public weigh in on the policy.

Last Thursday, Austin city council approved the purchase of APD’s preferred vendor, Taser, Int., a controversial company for its previous product, the Taser, due its technological failures, its use and abuse, and the company’s unprecedented use of pre-emptive lawsuits to prevent reporters publishing damning stories/doctors from conducting damning medical research/and medical examiners from listing the weapon as a primary cause of death. Taser, Int. reclassified it as “less than lethal” to get around it obviously not being “non-lethal” due to the nearly 1,000 people dead thus far.

When Austin purchased Tasers, we thought we'd see less police shootings and more accountability. Not so much.

A quick Google search will also reveal Taser’s aggressive lobbying efforts, spawning official investigations and damning findings. They now have the market on body cameras – not because they have the best product, but because they’ve made police chiefs and mayors their “best friends,” who in many cases, granted no-bid contracts. At least here, there was an appearance of a bid.

Austin’s runner-up vendor that actually came in $2.6 million dollars less, Utility, offered the better product. Their camera doesn’t rely on the police officer uploading the video – it automatically wirelessly uploads, in near-real time, to a locked black box that later wirelessly uploads at the station’s locked box. Their camera has a true geo-location function and turns on/off automatically according to how policy is written. Not Taser’s.

APD also convinced (a majority of) council they needed iPhones, to the tune of $5 million, to run software to assist Taser’s product to do the things Utility’s does already, and does much more that serves we, the people. All that software, by the way, is available in Android version – meaning they could have run it on existing phones.  Taser is also charging us well more per unit than they've charged any other city that took the contract; LA turned them down for the high price tag.

So instead of $9.6 million for a good system, we’ve spent $17.2 million for a system that won’t truly provide the accountability Austinites hope for, plus, however much else it will cost to hire admin to manually redact video (that Utility’s product can do in minutes) and plus however much we spend on litigation Utility’s sure to file.

They have some serious basis for it too, and may win. Despite getting the highest score, Taser didn’t meet one of the first mandates in the Request for Proposal (“RFP”), a “mobile viewing device,” so at the very last minute they told council they’d provide “iPad Touch” devices to do that. That was never in their RFP nor in that morning’s “late agenda back up” which listed all the components to their system. They made it up on the spot and (a majority of) council bought it, and they’ve never used it before as such, so we don’t know if it will even work, or work as well as Utililty’s.

Taser also, during questioning about redaction, said they had “Smart Redaction,” which they don’t. In fact, that is a trademarked component of Utility’s device! 

Taser, as per their M.O., lied, cheated and stole to get this contract, and we, the taxpayers, have been held up at Taser-point and won’t get the accountability we deserve.



To watch the discussion at council, click on Items 57 & 58. Taser sent in a plant, one Scott Greenwood, who posed as a 'concerned citizen' failing to say he was a Taser "Master Trainer" who flew in from Cincinnati: on Taser's dime, and he's a consultant with very expensive tastes, costing the City of Albuquerque over $500,000

VOTE ROUNDUP: on the Taser contract, Don Zimmerman voted against it and Ora Houston abstained. On the iPhones contract, Don ZimmermanOra Houston and Leslie Pool voted against; Ellen Troxclair abstained.



Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Austin City Council Should NOT Waste 10 - 15 Million Dollars


If you agree with the below, please email all council TODAY regarding Item #57, and ask them to choose Utility over Taser, re-issue RFPs, or take more time to consider this. #SayNoToTaserAustin


Tomorrow at the Austin City Council meeting, why is Council considering spending potentially $10-15 million more on body cameras for police than it needs to, and getting a lesser product in the process?

APD says they want body cameras, but they and City Management have brought a seriously flawed proposal forward with the recommendation of Taser, Int. They are charging us WAY more than they've been charging other cities (see chart above and watch testimony). Also, not only does Taser’s product lack extremely important technical options like wireless upload, geolocation, live video streaming, spot redaction (Taser would have us hire more staff to manually redact and to manually upload) and automated recording* (which has been shown to decrease assaults on officers and officer use of force), but APD wants us to buy them all new iPhones in excess of $5 million dollars to support the technology…but that won’t solve many of the issues.

Another vendor, Utility, has the necessary technical support to truly make body cameras a win-win for APD and the community, but the RFP was obviously written to favor Taser, Int. Which is par for the course for them—across the country, it’s been revealed that they have hired retired chiefs who got them the city’s contract and flown officers/chiefs around the country to promote Taser’s product. In New Mexico, the Office of the State Auditor investigated and found “weaknesses in the procurement process” and that the Albuquerque police chief violated conflict of interest and public purchase ordinances. Haven’t we had enough managerial scandals under Marc Ott already?

While Taser has received many suspect no-bid contracts, Austin at least pretended to have an RFP. The vendor in our case that actually scored better on price was Utility – which, at $9.6 million, saves us $7.6 million dollars, including not having to buy new phones. With Taser, we’d have to hire new staff to make up for the technical shortcomings, that will cost us…and vendors are suing cities with no-bid contracts and flawed RFPs – so that will cost us an extra million or so.

In Houston, they went with a vendor that just provided the body cams, and not the data storage as our RFP called for (which Taser solely offers), and set up their own data storage system for $236,100. In El Paso, who went with Taser, $1.65 of the $1.7 million in the contract was for data storage alone!

We don’t know how much our data storage breakout is (until it is approved; how’s that for transparency?), but there are other options and we should explore them.

We should scrap the RFP and re-issue three: one for equipment/data storage: one for equipment only and one for data storage only. The RFP MUST include the tech needs state above (the current one obviously failed to include those). The Texas Dept. of Information Resources has a new body cam data storage system they are offering, which would be at least half the cost of Taser’s price, and it would drop over time as more cities sign on and storage becomes cheaper. Meanwhile, Taser wants to lock us into an unprecedented 7-year contract at an exorbitant cost, lacking a lot of options that serve both police and the public.

SAVINGS IF WE CHOOSE UTILITY OVER TASER UNDER CURRENT, but flawed, RFP

VENDOR
Base Contract
iPhones
Additional APD staff, 7 years
Lawsuits
Total
Savings
Taser, Int.
$12.2 million
$5 million
$500,000-$1.5 million
$500,000 - $1.5 million
$18.2-$20.2 million
n/a
Utility
$9.6 million
 n/a
n/a
n/a
$9.6 million
$8.6-10.6 million


SAVINGS IF WE RE-ISSUE RFP’S TO EXPLORE THE TECHNOLOGY AND OPTIONS WE SHOULD HAVE IN THIS ONE:

If we go by Houston’s model, and used a company like Watchguard (which couldn’t have applied under this RFP), and used the upper-end of how many body cams Taser now tells us they are negotiating for, 2200 (despite documents citing 1700), we’d see a contract of around $4.3 million dollars. We could go with the state Dept. of Information Resources data storage system, which would likely come in at $785,000** per year to start, but go down over time: say, $4 million for 7 years, at most, coming in at $8.3 million.

But if we then set up our own data storage system, and added Houston’s $236,100 cost in, that comes to $4.5 million. Likely, techhies in this town will say we need to go cloud-based for better cybersecurity, which will cost significantly more, but likely no more than $1 million for seven years. So at worst, this type of set up would cost us $5.3 million total; saving us $14.9 million!

One thing that's clear: Taser's product costs too much and does too little!



*The Taser body cams San Antonio PD bought has automated recording. APD has told us Taser isn’t offering that yet—but will in the future. So what are we buying now from them, old models – at a much higher cost per camera than San Antonio paid?

**DIR representatives testified before a legislative committee in April, 2016, saying they would charge half of what Taser has been charging; and using El Paso's data storage/equipment breakdown, I extrapolated an approximate breakdown for us.