City Council to Consider APD Request to Buy $5 Million in Taser Body Cameras Amidst Accusation of "Inappropriate and Illegal" Dealmaking
The New Mexico Attorney General’s Office has expanded its criminal investigation into a $2 million, no-bid contract for police body cameras that former APD chief Ray Schultz is alleged to have steered to Taser International in 2013.
“The Office of the Attorney General has expanded the scope of the investigation and we anticipate a determination relatively soon,” AG spokesman James Hallinan said.
Exactly what the investigation now entails isn’t clear. The AG’s office gave no details of the expanded probe.
City may buy more Taser cameras
The expanded probe comes as the Albuquerque City Council is set to consider whether to award a $5 million contract to Taser for 2,000 new body cameras for police officers. Councilor Patrick Davis said the council will take up the proposed contract, which has been recommended by Mayor Richard Berry’s administration, in early April.
Meanwhile, New Mexico In Depth reported Friday that a Georgia firm that lost its bid for the body camera contract has appealed that decision while claiming the city used an “inappropriate and illegal” process in recommending Taser for the deal.
The 2013 deal with Taser seems to have been a mini-disaster for APD. The city apparently didn’t buy enough cameras back then for all of its officers, and since October of 2015, APD staffers have spent nearly $30,000 to buy 210 off-the-shelf MUVI body cameras for officers.
Replacement cameras raise chain-of-custody concerns
Those MUVI cameras aren’t designed for police work and were given to detectives and members of APD’s command staff. And because they can’t be directly uploaded to Taser’s cloud-based storage system, evidence.com, there have been questions of whether videos can be deleted or altered.
The MUVI cameras record on SD cards that must be removed, plugged into a computer, burned to a disc and then uploaded to evidence.com.
Davis initially expressed concerns about the MUVI cameras—some of which were purchased from Walmart—but told ABQ Free Press that APD acted correctly in buying them because they allowed all officers to have body cameras.
It appeared, Davis said, that APD didn’t initially buy enough Taser cameras to equip all of its officers under the 2013 no-bid contract. And after AG Hector Balderas’ office began investigating the contract, APD apparently slapped a moratorium on buying anything from Taser, including spare parts, Davis said.
As a result, broken Taser cameras couldn’t be repaired and new ones couldn’t be ordered. APD wanted all of its Taser cameras to go to field officers who have the most contact with members of the public. So it bought MUVI cameras for detectives and members of specialized units.
“It appears they did the right thing by giving Tasers to filed officers and giving the MUVI cameras to officers who had less contact with the public,” Davis said. “I think APD was trying to find a way around the Taser freeze.”
Taser camera parts unavailable
Davis also said he hasn’t gotten any complaints from defense attorneys about missing or inadequate videos from the MUVI cameras.
APD purchasing records show that the department clearly didn’t buy enough Taser cameras in 2013. In requesting authority to buy MUVI cameras, some supervisors noted that their officers were still using Scorpion cameras, which the department had purchased years earlier. Some of those supervisors complained that the Scorpion cameras didn’t work properly.
And, there was the inability to get new Taser cameras or parts. “Currently we are unable to get additional cameras and parts for Taser cameras,” Sgt. Sean Wallace of the K9 Unit wrote to his supervisor on June 14, 2016, to request permission to order 10 MUVI cameras.
Most of the MUVI cards were purchased with city purchasing cards, and their prices varied from around $119 per unit to $200. Davis said it was an inefficient way to buy things.
APD spokeswoman Celina Espinoza did not respond to an ABQ Free Press email asking why the department didn’t order enough Taser cameras in 2013.
Freelance journalism Charles Arasim contributed to this report.
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