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Commissioners OK $6.8 million for public safety surveillance upgrades

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Hays County Commissioners have unanimously approved a $6.86 million, seven-and-a-half-year contract with Axon Enterprise, Inc. for public safety video surveillance upgrades.

The $6.86 million price tag, to be paid in annual installments of $965,930.49, includes body cameras, in-car cameras, tasers, and software and systems that incorporate the evidence into, Commissioner Lon Shell (Pct. 3) explained during Tuesday’s commissioners court meeting.

“So that’s how that information is put into a place so that both defense and prosecutors can have access to that if that’s ever needed,” he said.

In May 2020, the court approved a Master Services Agreement with Axon related to the Law Enforcement In-Car Camera System and Body Worn Camera-Taser Program. That contract expires March 31, 2023.

Signing the new contract, effective April 1, 2023, would allow the Hays County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) to upgrade from Axon’s Fleet 2 to Fleet 3 hardware.

Fleet 3 offers automatic, unlimited transcription, unlimited body cam footage, unlimited storage, livestream and drone footage, and faster uploads, according to Shane Smith, captain of the HCSO’s Law Enforcement Bureau. The upgrade would also mean better views, quality, and angles for the in-car cameras.

Smith explained to the commissioners at Tuesday’s meeting the various ways in which upgraded technology would benefit HCSO and the county.

“Obviously, the first is locking in the price,” Smith told the commissioners. “We’ll save about a million dollars if we do it now [because] they’re going up 14% next year.”

Smith illustrated Fleet 3’s livestream capabilities with the following example.

“We had a fire that a couple of patrol cars were trapped in while they were helping EVAC during a wildfire,” Smith said. “With that livestream capability, the fire department would’ve been able to see what we were seeing and best directed deputies out of there, instead of having to work their way to them. It took a while, 35 to 40 minutes to get to [them].

“So that’s huge for us, to be able to livestream Fleet 3 cameras to anyone with access.”

With the new technology, Smith said HCSO will be in contact with EMS and fire on every scene and have access to live drone footage, which will “increase efficiency for all units involved.”

Discussion regarding the contract comes amid calls for greater transparency, after a Hays County correction officer fatally shot an inmate who was attempting to escape Ascension Seton Hays medical facility in Kyle.

On Monday, Dec. 12, Hays County inmate Joshua Wright, who was receiving medical treatment at Ascension Seton Hays, was fatally shot by a Hays County correction officer after attempting to escape.

HCSO said the corrections officer was guarding Wright, who received medical treatment on Monday when Wright allegedly  assaulted the officer and began to flee. The officer chased Wright through the emergency room. HCSO stated that the officer discharged his firearm, striking Wright.

Medical staff immediately began administering life-saving measures, but the inmate died.

The following day, Becerra released a statement, asking the sheriff’s office to release all body camera footage from the fatal shooting within 10-days of the in-custody death.

“Cooperation by the Sheriff’s Office, of making available video documentation of the incident available by Friday,

Dec. 22, would importantly enhance public trust and understanding of the context surrounding this tragic loss of life,” he wrote.

Several public commenters at Tuesday’s meeting also expressed concern over the price tag.

“Although I recognize the need for our law enforcement officers — who are people themselves, just like we are — to have a body cam to protect themselves and protect the public, why are we spending $6 million?” Bobby Jenkins asked. “That is my question, and I would like to have an answer.”

Rodrigo Amaya, another public speaker at Tuesday’s meeting, acknowledged that while the equipment is “very, very important, the concern I have is how it’s used.”

Amaya explained that when he filed a request for records on the fatal shooting of inmate Joshua Wright by a Hays County correction officer, the county took several days to respond.

“So there is a lot of redirecting and encouraging pushing the public to try to stay away from this,” Amaya said.

Hays County Judge Ruben Becerra asked Smith multiple clarifying questions to ascertain the value of Fleet 3 versus the county’s current hardware.

“Would we see our council of government footprint as a Fleet 3 using group, or are we the first ones to be Fleet 3, does Travis County use Fleet 3?” Becerra asked.

“I don’t know if Travis County uses it, but it’s pretty widely used, especially for the streaming capabilities,” Smith responded.

Becerra also asked how quickly body camera footage would be available with Fleet 3.

Smith said with Fleet 2, HCSO currently has to take body cameras back to the substation and dock them, but “Fleet 3 allows that to happen while the officer is in the car. It’s a constant, ongoing, upload.”

Smith summarized HCSO’s request for the hardware upgrade with the following statement: “[Fleet 2 is] super helpful to us, we’ve been using it, [and] we just want to upgrade what we’re using, again, to be more efficient,” he said.

While expressing some hesitancy over the price tag, Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe (Pct. 1) ultimately agreed that the upgrade is “well worth having this type of technology.”

“We are constantly trying to get our officers the absolute best training that’s out there, and I just think this is another step toward that,” Pct. 4 Commissioner Walt Smith added.

The commissioners ultimately voted for the contract’s passage, with Becerra requesting that General Counsel Mark Kennedy negotiate with Axon to include Hays County constables.

“I would like for us to be uniform in this stride so that sheriffs and constables, no matter what [the community] see[s] out there, if they see county law enforcement, that they have a consistent expectation, and that’s all I seek,” Becerra said.

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