Austin police look for grant money to fund officer iPhones

Officers patrolling ACL Music Festival. (KXAN Photo/Leslie Rangel)
Officers patrolling ACL Music Festival. (KXAN Photo/Leslie Rangel)

AUSTIN (KXAN) – A $5 million plan to purchase iPhones for Austin police officers did not make the final round of the city budget. Now, Austin police are looking for grant money to cover the program executives say will make an officer’s job more efficient, records show.

“We hope at some point we’ll be able to identify funding in the future, but I don’t think the sky is going to fall,” Chief of Police Operations Brian Manley told a council budget meeting Sept 9.

“It truly will add a lot of efficiency and free up time in the future. And what we’ll do on that piece is our grant writers will look and see if we can find a grant to actually support that, especially in light of the fact that we are moving forward with the cameras,” Manley said according to council meeting transcripts posted online. KXAN News reached out to APD for an update on the grant pursuit and has yet to hear back.

TASER body camera (TASER website Photo)
TASER body camera (TASER website Photo)

The city is still funding a $12.2 million program to fund police body cameras, a five-year contract signed with TASER International in mid-July that includes two, one-year extensions.

A TASER spokesperson confirms that program cost includes iPods so officers can view video. After completing the pilot testing last winter, APD wanted more expensive iPhones to compliment the body camera’s operation.

The separate phone proposal was already in the works, police said to replace pagers and give officers a battery of portable tools to use on the beat such as phone apps for translation or issuing an electronic citation, as well as an ability to track an officer’s location. Police executives told council in June however, the phones were not deemed a ‘must have.’ Ultimately, the city killed the purchase plan.

Body cameras by spring?

The body camera deal itself is far from moving forward, currently tied up in litigation with a losing vendor Utility Associates Inc., over the city’s bid process. A civil district court hearing set for Nov. 28 to resolve the matter appears in jeopardy since attorneys with Utility have since filed a brief with the Third Court of Appeals.

That matter must be heard first. The filing has to do with a separate Travis County judge’s decision not to allow Utility to recover mounting legal fees from the city. It’s fighting that ruling.

Legal sources KXAN spoke to suggest that process could tie up the main hearing until at least the spring.

The contract for TASER shows the acceptance period for the proposal is 180 days. That deadline would happen as soon as the end of December or mid-January. It’s doubtful TASER would want to walk away from a $12 million deal, though it remains unclear if either party would ask to have that period extended.

There is a delay provision in the contract that relates to so-called Force Majeure delays brought on by ‘orders of government’ which could be interpreted as a public court of law.

As for a Governor’s Office grant for $750,000 Austin won that would help offset the first-year cost of the project, spokesperson John Wittman tells KXAN News “In a situation like this, we wouldn’t intervene until much closer to the end of the project date – 8/31/17.”

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