The Fort Worth Police Department will spend $74.2 million during the next 12 years on tasers, body cameras, license plate readers and other equipment after the city council unanimously approved Tuesday a contract with Axon Enterprise.

“This contract is really about being good tax stewards to our taxpayers, and also better transparency,” Mayor Mattie Parker said. “And making sure all of our officers have the very best technology available to them to do a very difficult job.”

The contract will provide a number of technological advancements to the department, including video audit software designed to flag abuses of power by analyzing officers’ body camera footage and increased license plate reading capabilities.  

 Axon products the department currently uses include tasers, holsters, batteries, training materials, body cameras and vehicle cameras. Under the contract, the department will gain 16 new types of hardware and software, such as virtual reality use-of-force training and sensors to automatically turn on body cameras when a weapon is drawn.

This isn’t the first time Fort Worth has approved a contract with Axon. The company has two active contracts with the police 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. 

With the new contract comes new department policies. After council members expressed concerns about potential misuse of the new technology, police leaders announced they were working to create policies governing license plate readers, drones and body cameras. The policies were made in collaboration with the Office of the Police Oversight Monitor.

The office recommended several policies:

  • Enforce drone use to only what is allowed under federal and state law.
  • Create rules for the use of automatic license plate readers, and add violations of the rules to an officers’ disciplinary record.
  • Bar officers from using sleep mode on their body cameras for anything other than momentary personal privacy or privacy of a victim.
  • Develop community education campaigns to help the public understand the purpose of the new technology and how it will be used. 

Chief Neil Noakes expressed a commitment to continuing to work on updating policies throughout the life of the contract, but did not confirm if the office’s current recommended policies had officially been accepted. 

The use of license plate readers was among one of the most controversial provisions in the new Axon contract. The practice has been criticized by organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union, which say it allows police departments to surveil people who haven’t been accused of any crimes. 

License plate readers will only be used to address Class B misdemeanor crimes and above, not minor traffic offenses or other low level crimes, Noakes said. He also promised the license plate readers will not be used for immigration enforcement.

“We are not using it to become an arm of the federal government,” he said.

The 12-year contract has been billed as a cost-saving measure by officials, as it will lock the department into 2022 prices even as technology advances and costs rise on the part of the supplier. The majority of the funding ($71.8 million) will come from the Crime Control and Prevention District, with an additional $200,000 contributed each year from the Municipal Court’s yearly cost special revenue fund for a total of $2.4 million.

In public comment to council, Fort Worth resident Thomas Torlincasi raised concerns that the technology given to the department would become obsolete over the 12-year period. Noakes said the department will have access to upgrades in technology throughout the life of the contract. 

Adrian Smith, a former District 3 City Council candidate, asked police officers in attendance if there’s anything wrong with the body cameras and tasers they have right now.

“I’m sure there isn’t,” he said, and questioned why the department was asking for what he saw as new, unnecessary equipment. The contract would give the department 100 new tasers and 50 new body cameras.

District 8 council member Chris Nettles said body cameras are important to accountability in the city, and expanding that technology is necessary. Nettles was one of several council members who expressed concern about the contract at last week’s work session, but he lauded the police department for its efforts to answer his questions.

“I want to challenge our residents as well to make sure you stay in tune, stay alert, if you have any questions … about this contract or this vote, please reach out to my office. I want to set up a meeting with the chief, and hopefully we can come out and speak to our neighborhoods to make sure everyone understands and feels that we’re going in the right direction.”

Emily Wolf is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at emily.wolf@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter

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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...