As the market for body cameras grows in the aftermath of Michael Brown’s killing last August by a Ferguson police officer, one company – Taser International – appears to be capitalizing on the new demand by cultivating financial relationships with police departments.
Records obtained by The Associated Press reveal that the company specializing in law-enforcement products has been covering airfare and hotel stays for police chiefs who speak at promotional conferences, in addition to hiring former police chiefs as consultants. What is more troubling is that some of these chiefs are sometimes hired only a few months after their cities sign contracts with Taser, raising questions about whether these chiefs are acting objectively in their dealings with the company whose contracts can cost millions.
In Salt Lake City last year, the police department purchased 295 Taser body cameras and Evidence.com video storage with surplus money, bypassing the standard bidding process and City Council Approval.
Emails between former police chief Jeffrey Halstead and Taser last year also reveal that the two had a strong relationship at the time the city signed a contract with the company to purchase body cameras. Taser promised Halstead a discount if he can push the city to approve a deal before the end of the company’s sales quarter. In an email to Taser salesman, Andrew Grayson, Halstead wrote “I have ONE more small hurdle but I did my job this morning…someone should give me a raise.”
Halstead reportedly pushed the city to approve a no-bid contract worth up $2.7 million with the company, shortly before Taser sent him to speak at events in other cities, including Pheonix, Miami, and Boston. The former police chief retired recently and hopes to become a consultant for the company in the near future.
In another incident in Albuquerque, New Mexico, a similar relationship between the city’s police chief and Taser prompted an investigation. Albuquerque Chief Ray Shultz encouraged a $1.9 million contract with Taser, again, shortly before becoming a company consultant after stepping down, thereby prompting City Council members to demand an official inquiry.
Taser competitors have also claimed the company’s relationship with police chiefs has effectively shut them out of the market.
“Every time I do a presentation,” The President of Wolfcom Enterprises, a California based Taser competitor said “I wonder, ‘Who is tainted by Taser?’”