Leander will spend $275,700 in a five year deal to upgrade its current vehicle and body cameras.
While Leander officers have been wearing L3 Mobile Vision brand body cameras since 2014, the current system’s software and hardware can be unreliable, Police Chief Greg Minton said.
Senior officer Carlos Gonzalez said he found the L3 cameras weren't fisheye lenses and didn't capture footage well at night. He also once had to replace his camera after its memory corrupted and lost all of the video it had since its last sync.
"The videos would get stuck on the camera and wouldn't download, so I'd have to get it to reboot," Gonzalez said. "It was a constant struggle to get it to upload."
Gonzalez said many other officers reported their cameras would often overheat, not unlike the exploding Galaxy Note 7 smartphones.
The new cameras, which will come by way of a five-year deal with Axon Enterprises, Inc. authorized by the Leander City Council last week, will automatically upload footage to a cloud-based server.
The current equipment is operated manually and requires someone to download and categorize footage onto DVDs. Minton said there are now about 10,000 DVDs containing footage stored at the police department.
Minton explained that after conferring with several other police departments and officers with body camera equipment, the department settled on Axon based on the features and reliability of Axon’s products over existing equipment.
“Some of the internal patches for it wouldn’t record correctly or they wouldn’t turn on,” Minton said of the current equipment purchased in 2014. “We tried in good faith to try and make what we had work. We were told we were getting the new hot-off-the-press cameras (but) about nine or 10 went down in the first month. That was a problem.”
Round Rock and Cedar Park police departments both continue to use the L3 Mobile Vision XV models of body cameras, and RRPD spokesperson Nick Olivier said his department has not had any major issues with glitches or cameras not recording properly.
Cedar Park Commander Darlene Lewis said they have experienced some issues with recording, but L3 has been responsive to their requests for support and repairs.
The deal with Axon includes 57 Axon Body 2 model cameras for each commissioned officer and seven in-car cameras for the department's newest cars. LPD’s older vehicles are already equipped with cameras that are operating without issue, Minton explained.
While Minton was unable to say exactly how much the L3 camera system cost over the years, each L3 car system cost $5,800, along with a yearly cost of $1,800 for unlimited server storage with the company. L3 will not be issuing a refund, he said.
"With the new cameras, hardware-wise, it's extremely cheaper," Minton said. "The cost is just in online storage."
The department expects to spend $61,000 on the new equipment in 2018. According to city documents, funding will come from the police department's minor equipment, vehicle replacement and police forfeiture funds.
Each of Axon’s Body 2 cameras will turn on whenever an officer exits their vehicle or turns the vehicle’s lights on, operate on a 12-hour battery life in record mode and will hold 70 hours of high definition footage between internet connections to upload footage to the cloud-based server.
Each car has its own network, and when an officer pulls into the proximity of a city building to do a report, video will upload while their car is parked.
The cameras also have a pre-buffer feature, which automatically records up to two minutes prior to an event.
Two studies by the Rand Corporation found that when citizens are notified that police body cameras are turned on, complaints about the use of force by officers declined substantially. However, when officers were given the discretion to turn cameras on and off, complaints increased dramatically.
“As far as accountability, there’s an effect to knowing everything I’m saying to you and what you’re saying is being recorded,” Minton said. “I think that calms things down when you know you’re being recorded.”