SAN ANTONIO - Bexar County commissioners on Tuesday voted to open the contract for the Sheriff's Office body-worn cameras to a competitive bidding process, likely delaying the deployment of cameras several more months.
"We've had cameras for two years and we haven't done a damn thing," Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said.
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The decision to open the multimillion-dollar contract to a bid comes more than two years after the Bexar County Sheriff's Office purchased more than $800,000 worth of cameras from Georgia-based Utility Associates, Inc.
Only a fraction of the cameras, 42 out of more than 300, were ever deployed due to software interface issues.
Utility CEO Ted Davis on Tuesday blamed the issue on the entity responsible for writing the interface, Microsoft, and said once it was completed last summer, Utility could have incorporated it and helped deploy BCSO's full fleet of cameras within 30 days.
"Absent that interface being made available, you could not deploy more than 42 cameras," Davis said.
Davis said instead of being allowed to access the interface, Utility officials were frozen out by BCSO's current administration.
"There is a 'pay for play' thing here that's going on. I hope its perfectly clear to everybody," said Davis, referring to BCSO's decision last year to field test 100 cameras from Axon.
"In my opinion, I believe that Axon is the better camera," Sheriff Javier Salazar said after Tuesday's 3-2 vote.
"But we'll go through the RFP (bidding) process and see what it yields."
Last month, BCSO officials presented to commissioners a side-by-side demonstration of Utility and Axon cameras being tested in various law enforcement scenarios.
The presentation showed Axon's camera having a much wider field of view and better audio quality.
Davis and Precinct 4 commissioner Tommy Calvert said the presentation was filled with false information.
"There are a number of things that have been concerning that have fallen apart, I think a lot of the argument has fallen apart like a house of cards," said Calvert after the vote.
Calvert and Davis specifically pointed to BCSO's claim that Utility's camera has a much smaller field of view.
Davis showed the media a case for his company's body worn camera that drastically increases its field of view.
He also said that Utility has made it clear to BCSO that the company offers vouchers to have existing uniforms altered to carry its cameras but that the current administration has no interest in working with him moving forward.
"We didn't use any false information. We used the information available to us and we presented it," said Salazar, defending last month's presentation.
Wolff pointed out Tuesday that the original camera purchase was legally made, and not required to go out for a bid, under a state buying program.
In a series of slides, county manager David Smith showed that it could cost the county twice as much money in the long run to switch from Utility to Axon.
Smith said the county's $980,000 video management system will work with either vendor.
Calvert has introduced a contract clause that he said will prevent county employees, including elected officials, from accepting free travel or consulting fees from Axon should that camera maker ultimately be selected.
A written statement released by Calvert last week highlighted several instances in other cities where Axon (formerly called TASER) was awarded contracts then paid consulting fees or for travel for officials tied to the contracts.
Salazar said he hopes Axon continues to allow BCSO to use 100 of its cameras, a fraction of the 500 the agency wants to eventually deploy, while the county works through the bidding process.
The process could take up to four months, according to county officials.
"I just want to work through it and get the best camera we possibly can as fast and efficiently as we can," said Salazar.
Salazar had previously said he plans to have deputies in the field as well as detention officers wear the cameras.
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