Crime & Justice

Taser won first batch of LAPD's body cam business, without usual rules

Officer Guillermo Espinoza pushes a button to turn his lapel camera on and off. The cameras don't roll for the entire shift, only when an officer presses record.
Officer Guillermo Espinoza pushes a button to turn his lapel camera on and off. The cameras don't roll for the entire shift, only when an officer presses record.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

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A spokeswoman for L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti said Monday that it'll cost $7 million a year to equip LAPD officers with body cameras. In November, the contract for the first batch of cameras went to Taser International – but the deal avoided city bidding rules.

Because Police Commission President Steve Soboroff raised $1.5 million from private donations to pay for the first 860 cameras, the purchase was not subject to city rules, including competitive bidding.

Soboroff said raising money through the privately controlled Los Angeles Police Foundation allowed the department to avoid time-consuming city rules, including going to the City Council to ask for money.

“Cities struggling with deficits practically have to hold bake sales,” said UCLA Professor of Public Policy Mark Kleiman. That means private donors are playing a bigger role in what cities decide to do.

“We should be concerned about the transfer of political power from voters to donors,” Kleiman told KPCC. “But if I were Chief Charlie Beck and I wanted body cams, and Steve Soboroff could raise the money for it, I’d certainly grab the money.”

The LAPD chose Taser after it decided it had the best camera and video management system, said Sgt. Daniel Gomez in the department’s Information Technology Bureau. Gomez was involved in the selection process.

“We were very comfortable recommending Taser to the chief and police commission,” he said.

Gomez said Taser’s Axon Body cameras have a 30-second, pre-event, buffer video, so it captures events 30 seconds before an officer activates the system.

The runner-up to Taser was Coban Technologies, which provides in-car cameras for the LAPD. A company spokesman said he felt the selection process had been fair.

“As far as the LAPD taking the systems through a rigorous process of evaluation, they did that very well,” said Coban spokesman David Hinojsa.

Now that Mayor Eric Garcetti has committed public money to buy 6,000 more cameras, the next contract will be subject to bidding rules.

But with its foot now in the door, even the competition says Taser is in a good position to win it all. Hinojsa conceded it's likely Taser will now get the contract for all LAPD body cameras.

Taser also manufactures 90 percent of police stun guns in the country.