Colored drawing by Anthony Jensen

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.


Base Contract
Additional APD staff, 7 years
Taser, Int.
$12.2 million
$5 million
$500,000-$1.5 million
$500,000 - $1.5 million
$18.2-$20.2 million
$9.6 million
$9.6 million
$8.6-10.6 million


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.