February 10, 2022

Statement on Commissioners court decision to approve budget for updated body camera & taser technology

This shows no good-faith effort from our Sheriff to even attempt to follow the wishes of the community. We are disappointed in the court for folding to this hardball tactic so quickly.

ACT 4 SA is disappointed that our Commissioners Court voted so quickly to approve the added budget amendment for upgraded Axon body camera and taser technology. According to our contract with Axon, Section 3.1 says the County’s cameras “will be upgraded and replaced every 24 months.” This means that the county was eligible for an upgrade on the earliest December 3, 2021. Per that contract, there should be no additional cost to Bexar County for “upgraded” and “replaced” body cameras. Section 3.1 of Bexar County’s contract with Axon continues stating, “The replacement for Axon Body 2 camera is the most recently released body-worn camera sold by Axon, the same body cameras that the Sheriff included in his proposed budget amendment. This replacement will occur regardless of wear or usage of the camera being replaced.”

Beyond this, the County had already purchased this Axon Evidence Program giving the Sheriff’s personnel the “lightning” speed tools it needs to comply with video release within 10 days. This is the same tool that law enforcement agencies in Dallas and Travis counties use to release video in 10 business days (Austin) or less (Dallas PD has a 72 hour release policy). Yet the Sheriff chose to hold the court hostage by stating it was impossible to release body camera footage within 10-days if he did not receive this package deal he wanted. It should be noted that since the passage of the 10-day policy for the release of critical incident body camera footage, no critical incidents have occurred to truly test out this timeline. The county also allocated funding for two more positions for personnel to work within the body camera department to help with the release of body camera footage in a timely manner. It is unclear if these positions have even been filled yet. This shows no good-faith effort from our Sheriff to even attempt to follow the wishes of the community. ACT 4 SA’s volunteers and staff were the ones to originally suggest a 10-day window for the release of critical incident body camera footage to the court back in December when the policy was passed. We are disappointed in the court for folding to this hardball tactic so quickly.

The approval of this contract also extended the county’s contract with Axon by two years, with an additional cost of over $1 million in taxpayer dollars per year. This is critical funding that could go to many other needed areas of funding such as housing, food security, mental health, and more. It is also unclear whether Senate Bill 23, which went into effect in January, could require the county to forever keep this additional funding for our sheriff’s budget or be penalized by the state if we choose to reduce this. While the county speculated that this would be a one time investment that would not have a permanent effect on our Bexar County Sheriff’s budget, they could not answer with 100% certainty. The decision will depend on the opinion of the Texas Comptroller’s office at the end of this. 

The package deal brought forth by the sheriff was at its core created from a need for upgraded tasers. A majority of their tasers are eligible for an upgrade according to how long they have been in use for. This taser technology included automated activation of body cameras when a deputy pulls out his shotgun from their vehicle or pulls a taser or firearm from its holster. These are valuable tools for accountability. However, according to Commissioner Calvert, in the last bid process for body cameras and other technologies related to police accountability and transparency, there was another vendor who offered this type of taser technology for half the cost of what Axon offered. The package proposal from the sheriff’s technology also included Axon’s upgraded virtual training software, which is not a critical need right now. Commissioner Calvert asked the Commissioners Court to at least open up the process to other vendors to make bids so the county could make the most affordable and ethical decision possible. Axon has already been involved in ethics investigations by the Free Trace Commission (FTC) for some of their business practices. ACT 4 SA applauds Commissioner Calvert for his expertise and advocacy on this matter. 

We hope that in the future the Commissioners Court will re-evaluate their budgetary decisions regarding the Sheriff’s requests for budget amendments. Although the court cannot definitively dictate all policies related to the sheriff’s department, they do have sway through their powers to approve the county law enforcement budget. Further, they are our only access to make sure the community’s voices are heard for county level law enforcement decisions save a ballot initiative. We look forward to staying an active participant in future conversations. Thank you to all who showed up to speak out yesterday with ACT 4 SA!

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