Other body-camera makers and city officials are concerned about the local police chiefs’ undisclosed deals with Taser, the top ranking body-camera supplier for law enforcement departments. Ties smudged with conflict-of-interest were detected in Salt Lake City, Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Fort Worth.
But on Thursday, Taser reported that it had contracts with 9 other major cities, while it was negotiating with 28 more. Taser, the stun-gun developer, is now making its way into the body camera business by cultivating unofficial ties with police chiefs who promote its products to the loss of competitors, according to investigative journalists .
Usually, Taser pays police officers to laud its products at promotional conferences, it covers their bills such as airline tickets and hotel stay expenses, while it also hires retired chiefs soon after their departments signed body-camera purchasing contracts.
A recent press investigation reveals that the company closed consulting deals with two police chiefs weeks after their retirement, while it is also on the point of closing a third deal with a third chief who had supported the purchase of its products.
According to investigators, Taser will send the former police officer abroad to promote their body-cameras at luxury locations in the United Arab Emirates and Australia over the course of this month. One single contract can run into millions of dollars so it is not clear whether the retired police chiefs acted on the behalf of the communities they had served or the body-camera industry’s.
Charlie Luke, a councilman for Salt Lake City, urged chiefs to avoid “appearances of an endorsement in a for-profit setting,” since many competitors had complained about the lack of transparency and flaws in the public process.
“Every time I do a presentation, as I’m standing there looking through the room, I wonder, ‘Who is tainted by Taser?'”
uttered Peter Onruang, chief of Wolfcom Enterprises, a California-based body camera maker.
Mr. Luke was also surprised to learn that the SLC Police Department bypassed the City Council approval and the regular open bidding procedure when it had acquired portable Taser cameras using surplus money in 2014.
Additionally, the SLC Police Department declined to disclose the sum spent on purchasing the 295 body cameras for its police officers and the Evidence.com digital storage system, which is also developed by Taser. The department also failed to respond to a public records request made one month ago.
Chris Burbank, Salt Lake City police chief, said that there was no conflict of interest involved in his relationship with Taser since he didn’t get paid to speak on behalf of the company.
However, Chief Burbank had his flight tickets paid by Taser when attending its conferences, and recently recorded an ad for the company, in which he recommends Evidence.com to other police departments.
Taser claims that it doesn’t control in any way the process of awarding contracts, but early adopters of its body cameras, i.e. police chiefs, are the most suitable people to speak to their peers about the benefits and drawbacks of the products.
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