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Major conflict-of-interests questions are beginning to be raised after financial ties between the Fort Worth Police Chief and Taser International were discovered. The stun-gun producer has also become one of the leading body-camera suppliers for law enforcement, however, it seems that the company has also been nurturing shady financial connections with those police chiefs whose departments acquired the body-cameras.
One of those ties involves Jeffrey Halstead, at-the-time Fort Worth Police Chief. He and Taser international had close ties not only before but also after Fort Worth signed the contract that would allow the police department to purchase the recording devices in 2013. The Associated Press filed a state open records request attempting to obtain documents proving these connections. As the documents they obtained show, Halstead did not only accept that Taser International cover his travel expenses when attending conferences and events, but he also intensely lobbied for the contract with the body-camera manufacturer.
In fact, Taser International continued to nurture these particularly beneficial connections by hiring police chiefs who had recently gone into retirement as consultants with their companies. Only weeks after their retirement announcements, Taser signed contracts with two chiefs whose cities had previously signed contracts with the camera manufacturer. The company is currently planning on hiring a third former police chief who, during his tenure, also supported the purchase of Taser’s products.
In Fort Worth, Halstead began lobbying for the company in March, after Andrew Grayson, Taser International salesman had informed the police chief that a massive discount was on the table if a contract were to be signed before the 31st of March. As the days went by, Halstead continued to gather approvals and votes until, on the 16th of March, Grayson gave Halstead an ultimatum, underlining the importance of the March 31st deadline:
“Can we do to help convince the city manager to sign with you prior to that? Let’s get creative!”
The very next day, Halstead informed the Taser salesman that the City Council had set the vote for March 25th and that the votes were in Taser’s favor. So on March 25th, the Council approved a $2.7 million contract with Taser International.
Following this contract, Halstead attended technology summits in Scottsdale, Miami, Boston. All of the travel and housing expenses were paid for by the body-camera manufacturer. Curiously enough, only six days after announcing his retirement as Fort Worth’s police chief (on January 9th), Halstead praised Taser for their amazing products in a Facebook post for his new consulting company.
Such relationships do raise fair amounts of question as to whose interests the acting police chiefs had been serving and whether taxpayers were, in fact, best represented. Recent developments in law enforcement seemed to push for the introduction of such arrest-recording technology (the August shooting of Michael Brown). President Obama attempted to provide a solution by proposing a $75 million program that would allow police departments to acquire the technology they needed to ease tensions between communities and law enforcement officers. Yet when such connections surface, Charlie Luke, Salt Lake City councilman warns, there’s only one message that comes across: that police chiefs had only sought endorsement.
“It opens up the opportunity for competitors of these companies to essentially do what we’re seeing here — complaining about that public process.” he added.
When asked about the Halstead situation, David Cooke, Fort Worth City Manager defended the former police chief, insisting that Halstead had not violated any rules. Technically, employees are not prohibited from accepting benefits (and even job offers) which could influence their official duty performance. What this situation did underline, however, was the fact that there are significant gaps that need to be filled in the code.