Police departments opting for Taser International’s body-worn cameras may have financial ties to the company.
Officials in states like Utah and New Mexico where police departments have opted to purchase body cameras made by Scottsdale, Arizona based company Taser, are raising conflict-of-interest concerns as several police chiefs appear to be participating in endorsement-like activities.
Travel expenses, including airfare and hotel costs, for police chiefs to speak at promotional conferences were paid for by Taser, according to records recovered by The Associated Press, which is an issue in the eyes of public officials public who have trouble seeing the benefit these engagements provide to their cities.
Charlie Luke, a Salt Lake City councilman, warns that these speaking engagements may cause trouble for police chiefs.
“Department heads need to be very careful to avoid that type of appearance of an endorsement in a for-profit setting,” Luke said. “It opens up the opportunity for competitors of these companies to essentially do what we’re seeing here – complaining about that public process.”
Retired chiefs whose departments purchased Taser cameras have also been hired to work as consultants, such as former Albuquerque Police Chief Ray Schultz.
An investigation was brought on by Council members in Albuquerque when Schultz stepped down from his position and became a Taser consultant soon after. The U.S. Justice Department criticized the city for jumping into a contract with Taser and using the cameras before police were properly trained.
Body camera competitors, like Wolfcom Enterprises, are put off by the relationship between police departments and Taser as well.
“Every time I do a presentation, as I’m standing there looking through the room, I wonder, ‘Who is tainted by Taser?'” said Peter Onruang, president of Wolfcom Enterprises.
A recent report by The Police Foundation found that body cameras worn by police officers have led to a significant decrease in force-related complaints. The devices have potential to help mend the relationships between communities and law enforcement by keeping both parties accountable for their actions.
Several police departments are jumping on board with Taser, and the company announced that it has signed deals with 16 law enforcement agencies in the U.S. to use its cameras and software system.
However, not every police department has the resources to purchase cameras for hundreds of officers, sort through data from the recorded material, buy the storage software and distribute necessary clips to other agencies.
Phoenix Police Chief Joe Yahner said It would cost the department at least $3.5 million, a price that departments in cities of any size may struggle to afford.