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.


  1. Thanks, Debbie, for providing a glimpse behind the scenes of, of how for-profit companies drive up the cost of government and, thereby our taxes. Private profiteering, at public expense, is a huge issue at all levels of government. And that does not even touch on the quality of services provided.

    1. Thanks for your support and good analysis, Wolf.

    2. I will also add this story is not over. There will be some big news very soon, leaving the city with some serious egg-on-face disease.