A treasure of body cameras that the governor’s office billed as a donation equipping some state soldiers until lawmakers consider an agency-wide purchase next year is actually something else: a pilot program that could result in a lucrative contract for one of the two suppliers supplying the cameras.
The Arizona Department of Public Safety identified the two vendors as Axon and WatchGuard, saying each would provide approximately 75 body cameras “along with all training, hardware, software data storage and technical support.” at the agency free of charge for one year.
At the end of the evaluation period, the DPS plans to “purchase the deployed equipment from the vendor chosen by the department and will return the equipment to the vendor with which the department is not moving forward,” according to the Sgt. Kameron Lee.
This contradicts information originally shared by the governor’s office last week, when a representative for Governor Doug Ducey called the cameras a “gift.” Representatives for Axon and WatchGuard said they did not “give” or “give” anything to the state, instead saying they were providing the cameras on loan so that the soldiers could test them.
Still, the setup could mean companies are avoiding a competitive bidding process with other manufacturers for the purchase of a larger state body camera. That’s because both are already suppliers who have other contracts with the state, Lee said.
Daniel Scarpinato, the governor’s chief of staff, said the pilot offered a “rare opportunity to actually try the products – what works best for soldiers, what is most effective, what they like the most -” and have real field experience with cameras and vendors before making a decision. “
“It’s good business for the state and the public in that at least some of the body cameras are moving sooner,” he said, given that the COVID-19 pandemic has set aside Ducey’s efforts earlier this year to equip all state soldiers with cameras.
It also seems like a good deal for the vendor DPS ultimately chooses. Since the monthly expense of storing, maintaining, tech support, and writing the images can easily cost a large department hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, Axon or WatchGuard could end up getting millions out of the state. for the price of one year of service.
“The easiest part (of these programs) is to buy the body cameras and hand them over to the officers,” National Fraternal Order of Police director Jim Pasco said by email. “But storing all the data they collect – the cost is extraordinary.”
Who proposed the pilot?
The body camera proposal released by Ducey in January, which was priced at $ 4.8 million, included equipment for 1,267 DPS personnel and provided for 20 new positions to handle the images.
The bill that would have financed the plan, who did not name any preferred supplier, sailed through the State House. But before the Senate could move it any further, COVID-19 struck and the legislative session ended early.
When the governor’s office announced the contribution of 150 cameras last Wednesday, it presented it as an interim equipment plan sparked by the generosity of private suppliers. At the time, neither Ducey nor DPS had named the suppliers, citing contracts that had yet to be finalized.
The Republic has applied for these contracts under the State Public Archives Act, but the DPS has yet to release copies.
The governor’s office also said last week that the “donation” of the camera was offered, unsolicited by, the Ducey administration. Motorola Solutions, the parent company of WatchGuard, disputed this claim.
“Arizona DPS had requested that we participate in a trial for the deployment of their body camera, which included the provision of 75 body cameras during their evaluation period, subject to their return at the end of the period,” said the spokesperson Kathy VanBuskirk. .
“Motorola Solutions does not donate or gift products to Arizona DPS,” she said, noting that DPS was a “long-time customer” of the company’s radios and on-board camera systems.
An Axon representative also said the company “does not donate cameras to DPS.”
Axon has taken heat in the past for offers to provide US law enforcement agencies with free body cameras and accompanying software for a year, one of the few strategies rivals have seen as “unethical.” “to undermine them.
In 2017, then-competitor VieVu sued the company over a claim it caused VieVu to lose a $ 3.6 million contract to equip Phoenix Police with body cameras. VieVu had the highest score of nine bidders that year, but the city rescinded the deal after Taser representatives launched what VieVu described as an aggressive awareness campaign with Phoenix officials.
Axon has since acquired VieVu but faces a complaint from the Federal Trade Commission which challenges the acquisition on the grounds that it “reduces competition in an already concentrated market”.
The state has already paid millions to suppliers
Scarpinato, Ducey’s chief of staff, said the state expected lawmakers would have earmarked enough money to purchase the rest of the body cameras and cover the related costs by the end of an assessment period. year.
“The governor cares, he will make sure it is in his budget proposal, and he will defend it in the legislature (next session),” said Scarpinato.
Scarpinato stressed that the DPS had “no obligation to pursue a larger contract” with either of the pilot companies.
Arizona Department of Administration spokeswoman Megan Rose said existing contracts between Axon and WatchGuard and the state “already include reserved spaces … for body cameras.”
“If a product or service is included in the scope of the contract when tendered, then the state has the option of using the contract for those products without re-bidding,” she said.
Axon has received at least $ 2.8 million from the state since 2010, according to expense reports, in exchange for equipment and other services provided to DPS and nine other state agencies. The state paid Motorola Solutions at least $ 43 million during the same period for services to at least 15 state agencies.
There is no indication that Axon made campaign contributions to Arizona politicians, but records show one of Motorola’s political action committees made more than $ 140,000 in campaign contributions. to the candidates and causes here since the 2014 electoral cycle.
More than a fifth of Motorola’s donations went to Ducey for his two gubernatorial campaigns, as well as two political action committees linked to Ducey, the Arizona Leadership Fund and Arizonans for Strong Leadership.
Motorola spokesperson VanBuskirk acknowledged a “consistent history of support for Arizona candidates over the years,” but said the contributions “bear no relation to the Arizona DPS request. of a body-worn camera test “.
She also confirmed that Motorola employed a retired DPS soldier, but said “he does not work within our WatchGuard family of products and services, nor is he involved in the pilot. of the body camera “. DPS said none of its current employees have contracts with Axon or WatchGuard.
The agreements with Axon and WatchGuard appear to be the latest example of the governor’s office tendency to workwith companies or individuals who have had contracts with the state or who have made campaign donations.
The Republic of Arizona previously found that the state paid $ 174 million to PR and advertising companies that donated their services for Ducey’s “Mask Up” campaign. Ducey also leaned on top campaign donors to help fund a COVID-19 relief fund, and most of the early disbursements from this fund went to nonprofits that had political contributors to Ducey on their boards.
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