Behind each Fort Worth police officer is thousands of dollars in technology.

Tasers, body cameras and other equipment have been provided to the department by Axon Enterprise, formerly known as Taser, since 2004. Now, department leaders are pushing City Council members to consider a $71.8 million deal to secure the technology for the next 12 years.

“Coming into this, I spoke with some other chiefs, specifically the chief of Fresno, chief of Oklahoma City and the chief in Austin who have similar contracts with Axon,” Chief Neil Noakes said in a presentation to the council. “I heard nothing but glowing reviews.”

Axon has two active contracts with the department, one of which totals $1.33 million from 2021 to the end of 2025. The other, which expires in September, cost the city $7.4 million over four years. 

“We have one of our major Axon contracts expiring this year, and we’re trying to wrap all of our contracts into one large contract to cover all the different products we utilize,” Lt. Vincent Brown said. 

The products the department uses include tasers, holsters, batteries, training materials, body cameras and vehicle cameras. The Fort Worth Police Department hopes the larger contract will keep prices below market value as costs for the products continue to rise.

“We’ve had this long-term contract that’s getting ready to expire since 2016,” Brown said. “So we’ve been locked into 2016 prices, which are very good prices, but those aren’t available anymore. And so if we can get into a long-term contract with them, and that will lock in 2021 pricing, it is not as good as 2016, but it’s going to be a lot better than 2028.”

Axon is designated as the sole source of the technology in its contracts with the city. For sole source contracts to be approved, the city and the company must both provide proof that there are no other options available on the market and that the price included in the contract is fair market value.

Nationally, the company provides the majority of police body cameras. In the wake of George Floyd’s murder by four fired Minneapolis police officers, video of which was captured on the company’s body cameras, Axon has created what it calls “priority-ranked video audit” software to flag potential abuses of power by officers. 

Following the fatal shooting of Atatiana Jefferson by former Fort Worth police officer Aaron Dean in 2019, the department released Axon body camera footage, which showed Dean did not identify himself as a police officer before firing. If approved, the new contract with Axon would include the new video audit software, potentially cutting down on the time required to review footage.

Interim city attorney Laetitia Coleman Brown told council members the city can face lawsuits because of an officers’ failure to turn on their body camera, and the new technology offered by Axon would ensure body cameras turn on automatically. 

“I really think where you’re going with this does show that the police department, you’re really trying to meet the needs and the concerns and the anxiety of the public,” District 5 council member Gyna Bivens said.

With the new technology available to the department, Vincent Brown said, they anticipate creating new policies around its use. Department leaders have been in communication with the Office of the Police Oversight Monitor in an effort to remain transparent about what the new contract would mean for policing in the city. 

“As new technology comes online, we want to make sure there’s no chance for abuse or violation of civil rights,” he said. “We’re in the process of working with the (Office of Police Oversight Monitor) to ensure there’s a timeline that those policies are reviewed to make sure that they contain these new guidelines.”

The department said it will present the council with more information on the policies it is working to develop before council members vote on the contract proposal next week. Kim Neal, director of the Office of Police Oversight Monitor, said that the department does not currently have policies on the use of license plate readers and that developing such a policy is essential. 

The department acknowledged there may be concerns about some of the new technology, like an increased drone presence and the use of license plate readers. Although the concerns are understandable, Brown said, state law already strictly limits how drones can be used. 

Neal said while the technology presents an opportunity for increased transparency and accountability, it is not a panacea. Community engagement will be essential to helping residents understand the impacts of the new technology.

“It doesn’t replace community policing,” she said. 

Emily Wolf is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at emily.wolf@fortworthreport.org or via TwitterAt the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Emily Wolf

Emily Wolf is a local government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. She grew up in Round Rock, Texas, and graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a degree in investigative...