Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (Photo: Sean Logan/The Republic)
A trove of body cameras the Governor’s Office billed as a donation to equip some state troopers 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 providing the cameras.
The Arizona Department of Public Safety identified the two vendors as Axon and WatchGuard, saying each would provide about 75 body cameras “as well as all training, hardware, software data storage and technical support” to the agency at no cost for one year.
At the end of the evaluation period, DPS plans to “purchase the deployed equipment from the vendor chosen by the department and will return the equipment to the vendor the department does not move forward with,” according to Sgt. Kameron Lee.
That contradicts information initially shared by the Governor’s Office last week, when a representative for Gov. Doug Ducey described the cameras as a “donation.” Axon and WatchGuard representatives said they were not “donating” or “gifting” anything to the state, instead indicating they were providing the cameras on loan so troopers could test them out.
Still, the setup could mean the companies avoid a competitive bidding process with other manufacturers for the state’s larger body camera purchase. That’s because both already are suppliers who have other contracts with the state, Lee said.
Daniel Scarpinato, the governor’s chief of staff, said the pilot provides a “rare opportunity to actually try the products — what works best for the troopers, what’s the most effective, what do they like the best — and actually have on-the-ground experience with the cameras and the vendors before making a decision.”
“It’s a good deal for both the state and the public in that it gets at least some of the body cameras moving sooner,” he said, given that the COVID-19 pandemic sidelined Ducey’s efforts earlier this year to outfit all state troopers with cameras.
It also seems to be a good deal for the vendor DPS ultimately chooses. Since monthly storage, maintenance, tech support and redaction expenses for footage can easily cost a large department hundreds of thousands of dollars annually, Axon or WatchGuard could end up getting millions from the state for the price of one year’s services.
“The easy part (of these programs) is buying the body cameras and issuing them to the officers,” National Fraternal Order of Police Director Jim Pasco said via email. “But storing all the data that they collect — that cost is extraordinary.”
Who proposed the pilot?
The body camera proposal released by Ducey in January, which had a $4.8 million price tag, included equipment for 1,267 DPS personnel and called for 20 new positions to manage the footage.
The bill that would have financed the plan, which named no preferred vendor, sailed through the state House. But before the Senate could advance it further, COVID-19 hit and the legislative session came to an early close.
When the Governor’s Office announced the 150-camera contribution last Wednesday, it framed it as a stopgap equipment plan prompted by the generosity of private suppliers. At the time, neither Ducey representatives nor DPS would name the vendors, citing contracts that had yet to be finalized.
The Republic has sought those contracts under the state’s public records law, but DPS has yet to release copies.
The Governor’s Office also said last week that the camera “donation” was offered to, not solicited by, the Ducey administration. Motorola Solutions, the parent company for WatchGuard, disputed that claim.
“Arizona DPS had requested we take part in a trial for their body-worn camera deployment, which included supplying them with 75 body-worn cameras during their evaluation period, subject to their return at the conclusion of the period,” spokeswoman Kathy VanBuskirk said.
“Motorola Solutions is not donating or gifting products to Arizona DPS,” she said, noting that DPS was a “longtime customer” of the company’s radios and in-car camera systems.
A representative for Axon also said the company was “not donating cameras to DPS.”
Axon has taken heat in the past for offers to provide U.S. police departments free body cameras and accompanying software for one year, one of a handful of strategies rivals have deemed an “unethical” way to undercut them.
In 2017, then-competitor VieVu sued the company over a claim it had caused VieVu to lose out on a $3.6 million contract to outfit Phoenix police with body cameras. VieVu had scored the highest among nine bidders that year, but the city scrapped the agreement after Taser representatives launched what VieVu described as an aggressive outreach campaign to Phoenix officials.
Axon has since acquired VieVu but is facing a complaint from the Federal Trade Commission that challenges the acquisition on the grounds it “reduced competition in an already concentrated market.”
State already has paid suppliers millions
Scarpinato, Ducey’s chief of staff, said the state anticipates lawmakers will have appropriated enough money to purchase the rest of the body cameras and cover related costs by the time the yearlong evaluation period is up.
“The governor cares about it, he’ll be ensuring it’s in his budget proposal, and he’ll be advocating for it to the Legislature (next session),” Scarpinato said.
Scarpinato stressed that the DPS was “not under any obligation to pursue a larger contract” with either pilot company.
Arizona Department of Administration spokeswoman Megan Rose said existing contracts between Axon and WatchGuard and the state already “include placeholders … for body cameras.”
“If a product or service is included in the scope of the contract when it is bid, then the state has the ability to utilize the contract for those products without going to bid again,” she said.
Axon has received at least $2.8 million from the state since 2010, spending records show, in exchange for equipment and other services provided to DPS and nine other state agencies. The state has paid Motorola Solutions at least $43 million over the same period for services to at least 15 state agencies.
There are no indications that Axon made any campaign contributions to Arizona politicians, but records show one of Motorola’s political action committees has made more than $140,000 in campaign contributions to candidates and causes here since the 2014 election cycle.
More than one-fifth of Motorola donations went to Ducey for his two gubernatorial campaigns, as well as to two political action committees with ties to Ducey, the Arizona Leadership Fund and Arizonans for Strong Leadership.
VanBuskirk, the Motorola spokeswoman, acknowledged a “consistent history of supporting Arizona candidates over the years” but said contributions “have no connection to the Arizona DPS’s request for a body-worn camera trial.”
She also confirmed that Motorola employs a retired DPS trooper but said “he does not work within our WatchGuard family of products and services, nor is he involved in the body camera pilot.” DPS said none of its current employees contract with Axon or WatchGuard.
The deals with Axon and WatchGuard appear to be the latest example of the Governor’s Office’s tendency to workwith companies or individuals that have had prior state contracts or who have made campaign donations.
The Arizona Republic previously found that the state had paid $174 million to public relations and advertising companies that donated their services for Ducey’s “Mask Up” campaign. Ducey also has relied upon major campaign donors to help fund a COVID-19 relief fund, and most of the first disbursements from that fund went to nonprofit organizations that had political contributors to Ducey on their boards.
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