A sole-source body-camera contract scandal rocking New Mexico has taken a new turn, with findings in a state audit that Albuquerque’s former police chief Raymond Schultz and his then-deputy attended a police convention bash at a Gaslamp Quarter nightclub courtesy of Taser International as part of a pattern of undue influence over the city's purchasing decisions.
As reported here last month, Taser is also the sole-source provider of nearly $1 million worth of body cameras to San Diego police.
A February investigation by USA Today into Taser's body-camera sales practices quoted San Diego city councilmember Marti Emerald as saying the no-bid contract was let because, "Taser offered a product that 'meets our need.'"
Added the story, "Following a field trial of the Taser cameras, the city's purchasing officials recommended approval because of 'unique' functions of the Taser device that were 'deemed a necessity,' according to city documents."
Taser has since been using San Diego's endorsement of its product to promote body-camera sales, quoting San Diego chief of police Shelley Zimmerman as saying, "We find the cameras to be a win-win for our officers and citizens and we look forward to continued success with our body-worn video program here in San Diego."
In his April 30 letter to the Albuquerque City Council, New Mexico state auditor Timothy Keller said that his office had "observed a close correlation among the Albuquerque Police Department dealings with Taser, influence over the procurement process of which the Chief boasted and various personal benefits the Chief and other [police department] employees received from Taser."
Among alleged freebies provided officials related to the $1.95 million contract were "two tickets to an October 1, 2012, Taser International & SunGard [International Association of Chiefs of Police] Party at Stingaree Night Club in San Diego, California. The Chief and the then-Deputy Chief of Police were identified as a guests of Taser."
San Diego mayor and former police chief Jerry Sanders and then-police chief William Lansdowne were official hosts of the 2012 cop convention. Sanders "joked that he felt somewhat nervous to have '15,000 cops running around the Gaslamp District' near the San Diego Convention Center venue," reported Police Magazine.
In addition to receiving the party admission, trips, and other gratuities, Schultz was hired by Taser as a consultant before his retirement as police chief, auditors found.
"The formal employment with the City of former Police Chief Raymond Schultz (ending with his retirement date of January 1, 2014) overlapped with his contract work with Taser International, Inc. (beginning in October 2013), resulting in the probable violation of City Conflict of Interest and Public Purchase ordinances and the Governmental Conduct Act," the report says.
"The Chief made presentations while under contract with Taser, in locations ranging from Australia to Amsterdam to Miami, within one year of his [police department] retirement date. In addition, the Chief authored an article for the FBI LEEDA 'Insighter' publication in March 2014, entitled ‘Must-Have Equipment for Today’s Police Officer,’ and prominently featuring the Taser logo."
Keller added that his office was, "concerned that the Chief may have asserted improper influence over the Taser procurement process. By virtue of his position…the Chief had ultimate approval on all purchases for the [police department]. The emails between the Chief and Taser representatives and the benefits he received from Taser could be construed to mean that Taser had a calculated advantage in determining what specifications were needed for [police] to award Taser the contract."
Added the letter, "The Chief and other [police department] employees did not fully disclose the real or potential conflicts of interest in the Taser negotiations. In addition, the chain of events shows a close correlation between the City’s dealing with Taser and various personal benefits the Chief received."
A lawyer for Schultz, now assistant police chief in Memorial Villages, Texas, told the Associated Press he had done nothing wrong.