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City to offer body camera contract to police-tech giant Taser

An Axom Body 2 camera from Taser. Credit: Taser

The Seattle Police Department intends to award Taser International the contract to equip its officers with body worn cameras, according to the City of Seattle’s purchasing blog The Buy Line. Former SPD employee and public disclosure rabble-rouser Tim Clemans alerted Crosscut to the decision.

The choice is not altogether surprising. During the city’s pilot program nearly two years ago, 12 officers wore Taser equipment. The Arizona-based company also recently opened an office in Seattle and has been working with Amazon Web Services to store its data.

In choosing Taser, Seattle has clearly decided to take the safe (although potentially expensive) route. The company, best known for its electric stun guns, is valued at $1.3 billion and has cornered three-quarters of the body camera market to date, according to the New York Times.

Among the requirements the city looked for in a vendor was that they have already worked in a similarly sized city. In fact, when one unnamed vendor asked in a written Q&A if the city would be willing to ignore that requirement, the city responded, “While we appreciate vendors that are trying to gain a foothold in a new market, the importance of this project is too great to take a risk on technology that has not been proven on a scale similar to Seattle.”

The competition was between Taser, COBAN (which operates SPD’s dash-cameras) and Seattle-based Vievu. The city apparently tested each of them, scoring them on factors such as the camera itself, user management, public disclosure and redaction, and security. On those measures, SPD scored Taser significantly higher than the other two companies.

The company, however, is not without controversy. The AP reported in 2015 that Taser had uncomfortably close ties with several police chiefs, flying them to conferences and paying for hotel stays, raising questions about the respective departments’ ability to choose objectively. Seattle officials did not appear in these news reports.

The decision reflects an “intent to offer,” so it’s unclear whether the offer has actually been made. It’s also unclear what technology the city intends to purchase. Options include cameras on officers’ chests or glasses. Taser offers both while the other two vendors only provide the former. SPD spokesperson Sean Whitcomb declined to provide any more details or comment at all on the state of the offer.

Clemans said he had a good experience working with Taser during his time with the department.

The intent to offer a deal to Taser is another step forward in the city’s complicated and occasionally beleaguered march toward body cameras. In 2015, Mayor Ed Murray budgeted $1.8 million (with $600,000 from a federal grant) to roll them out departmentwide. In his most recently released budget, the city will spend $4.6 million over the next two years.

He did so with tremendous public approval: In a recent survey, body cameras had a 92 percent approval rating among Seattleites.

But the details have proven difficult. So difficult, in fact, that the Seattle City Council last year imposed a budget proviso (a block) on the $1.8 million until the department had better-defined policy and sufficient community input. Main concerns include balancing privacy with accountability.

As Crosscut has reported, that proviso has still not been lifted, as several councilmembers hold out for better parameters for which officers should be wearing cameras and when.

In an interview last month, SPD Chief Operating Officer Brian Maxey said the department intends to roll out camera use to bike officers by the end of this year with full deployment by the end of 2017.

 

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