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Monday, December 12, 2011

Purchase of Tasers for DPS questioned

December 10, 2011
JJ Hensley, The Arizona Republic

The Department of Public Safety set out to purchase 800 Tasers and accessories in 2009 for about $800,000.

But by the time the equipment was delivered, more than 13 months later, the purchase had grown to 1,000 newer-model Tasers and accessories at a cost of more than $1.9 million.

The DPS officer who requested the more expensive, newer model stun gun is a Taser senior master instructor, according to DPS. The instructor, Sgt. Bud Clark, did not have any paperwork on file noting his relationship with the Scottsdale manufacturer, as state law requires for procurement officers, said DPS spokesman Bart Graves.

"We are looking into why he didn't file that paperwork," Graves said.

Records show the department began taking steps to replace its officers' aging Tasers in the spring of 2009, initially getting approval for 500 units at an approximate cost of $400,000.

By the end of that summer, records show that DPS had received an estimate for 800 Tasers and accessories from a Prescott vendor for $880,000.

But the Taser model that DPS priced in the summer of 2009 was becoming increasingly obsolete, and in 2010, Clark requested that the agency amend the contract to cover a new model, the Taser X3.

The newer model was appealing because it included three cartridges that allow officers to simultaneously fire the electrodes at up to three people or fire three shots in more rapid succession.

"We had an 83 percent reduction in officer-injury rates when deploying the Taser. Sixty percent of our deployments do not capture the suspect on the first shot. Three shots will give the officer a better chance of striking on first deploy and further reducing officer injuries," according to a DPS statement on the purchase.

In December 2010, the agency took delivery of 1,000 Taser X3s at a price of about $1,600 each. DPS administrators also turned in more than 400 of the older model Tasers for a rebate of $75 each. The agency said those Tasers were broken.

The money to purchase the Tasers came to DPS through photo-enforcement citations thanks to a legislative measure that earmarked the funds for the purchase of ballistic vests, stun guns and other safety equipment, said Phil Case, DPS' chief financial officer.

"Normally, we wouldn't think of turning over our stock of anything that quickly," Case said. "In this case, we did because of that infusion of photo-enforcement money."

DPS is not the only Valley agency to upgrade its Tasers stock in the past year.

Chandler police will soon start turning over their stock of Tasers after the City Council last month approved the purchase of about 350 Tasers and accessories at a cost of about $470,000. Chandler police chose a different new-model Taser, which the department received for about $300 less each than the DPS models.

DPS Sgt. John Ortolano, president of the Arizona Fraternal Order of Police, said there were concerns about the X3 among officers who have used the device.

"The technology difference is day and night compared to the X26 but the biggest thing is (the X3) is a big bulky item. If you carry it on a drop-leg holster, it's like you strap a cinder block to your leg. Putting it on your duty belt is a better option, but then you start running into problems, because of the girth of the weapon, you have problems getting seat belts off and on," Ortolano said. "The thing is just so big that it's a problem."

Ortolano said the X2 model that Chandler ordered was smaller and more manageable and that it was well known that the smaller model would be available soon when DPS ordered the larger version.

DPS officers would have likely raised concerns about the bulk of the new Tasers had the product gone through the field testing that is common when the agency rolls out new products, Ortolano said.

Rifles were purchased out of the same fund that paid for the Tasers, and Ortolano said officers tested four brands before settling on the Colt tactical rifles they now use.

"Why didn't we buy 20 or 30 (Tasers) and get feedback instead of doing a huge purchase like this," Ortolano asked. "In this particular instance, a lot of people have a lot of questions as to why things appeared to be done differently."

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