Monday, April 4, 2016

Orlando cancels police body camera bids after ethics complaints

Posted By on Mon, Apr 4, 2016 at 12:48 PM

click image PHOTO VIA TASER INTERNATIONAL
In the midst of ethics complaints against two Orlando Police Department officers, the city of Orlando has decided to scrap bids it received on police body cameras. 

OPD Internal Affairs Manager Dwain Rivers filed complaints against officers Brian Cechowski and Anna Melnick to the state commission on ethics last week. The complaint alleges the two officers were paid by Taser International to train other law enforcement agencies on body-worn cameras at the same time that Taser International was trying to supply OPD with body cameras. 

The state ethics code says, "A public officer or employee is prohibited from holding any employment or contract with any business entity or agency regulated by or doing business with his or her public agency."

The complaint says Cechowski was selected as the technology and projects coordinator in 2014 and has coordinated "multiple technology projects," including body-worn cameras. In 2013, OPD and the University of South Florida agreed to conduct a study on police body cameras. OPD purchased 25 cameras from Taser International for the study, and an additional 25 cameras were provided by the company for free. The results of the year-long study showed that body cameras may have helped reduce resistance incidents and external complaints.

In 2015, the city received almost $500,000 in a matching grant from the U.S. Department of Justice for the purchase and implementation of the cameras. After the bidding process was started, Cechowski was initially selected to be a non-voting member on an advisory committee formed in February 2016 to review the proposals submitted, but he was later removed when he answered "yes" to the question "Are you, your spouse, your child or anyone living in your household currently employed by any entity that may submit a proposal," according to the complaint. Taser International was one of nine companies that submitted a proposal to supply 450 cameras for the city's officers. 

OPD Chief John Mina told the Orlando Sentinel that Cechowski did not influence or recommend a decision to any committee member, nor did he write requirements for the bids. Mina says OPD did not know Cechowski was working for the company, and he ordered both officers to stop their employment with Taser International and asked for an internal investigation. 

Cassandra Lafser, spokesperson for Mayor Buddy Dyer's office, says the mayor "asked for a complete review of the circumstances surrounding the City’s procurement process for body worn cameras and the outside employment of OPD officers with TASER, a body worn camera provider."  

"Our initial review indicates that the procurement process wasn't compromised in any way, however in an abundance of caution and to eliminate any questions about the solicitation of body worn cameras, the City will cancel the current solicitation and reject all proposals," Lafser says in a statement. "As a part of our commitment to an open and transparent procurement process, additional requirements will be added before this contract is rebid in the future, including, but not limited to, the proposer being asked to disclose any personal or business relationships with any City of Orlando employees or elected officials." 

The Orlando Sentinel reports OPD had planned to have the first cameras on 100 officers by July, but after the city decided to start the bidding process over, it's not clear what the new timeline will be. 

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