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Las Cruces approves $1.8 million contract for police body cameras and Taser upgrades

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Michael McDevitt, Las Cruces Sun-News
Published 3:46 p.m. MT Nov. 16, 2020

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LAS CRUCES – The city will upgrade its existing police body camera equipment and soon provide body-worn cameras to codes enforcement and animal control officers.

The Las Cruces City Council voted 6-0 to approve a sole source contract for upgraded body cameras, Tasers, video storage software and related equipment with Axon Enterprise at its Nov. 16 meeting. District 2 Councilor Tessa Abeyta Stuve was absent.

The contract with Axon will cost the city up to $1.8 million over five years and includes annual renewals.

The Scottsdale, Arizona-based police technology company is the current provider of the Las Cruces Police Department’s body-worn cameras, video storage and maintenance. Axon also supplies the Las Cruces police with its non-lethal, electrical Taser brand weapons, which are interconnected with the body camera system.

The contract will upgrade all LCPD’s body cameras to the Axon Body 3, their latest model, and boost the police department’s inventory from 140 to 214 cameras. It will also upgrade the police department’s older Taser weapons to the latest Taser 7 model and pay for Axon’s cloud-based video storage service, Evidence.com.

The city will also purchase related accessories and virtual reality police training.

The contract was sole sourced since the city has an existing contract with Axon, and the company is the sole manufacturer of the Axon Body 3 camera, Taser and Evidence.com, the city said. 

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Legislation passed during the special legislative session this summer requires all New Mexico state and local law enforcement officers wear body cameras while on duty and record footage when interacting with the public.

According to the new state law, officers must activate their body cameras “whenever a peace officer is responding to a call for service or at the initiation of any other law enforcement or investigative encounter between a peace officer and a member of the public.”

The law also requires agencies retain and store footage for at least 120 days.

Axon says on its website its technology aims to reduce police violence and increase transparency and accountability in policing.

This contract wasn’t entirely spurred by the special legislation since the current contract was expiring and the equipment needed to be upgraded anyways, according to LCPD Officer Robert Benavidez, who is the administrator for LCPD’s body camera system.

The Taser 7 “turns on body cameras in the area” when used, Benavidez said.

Body cameras have been used by the LCPD since 2014, the city said. The cameras were first used by just some officers, and they only had to be recording during a few types of investigations and interactions with the public. Later, their use extended to all LCPD officers during all interactions with the public, which is the policy that stands today.

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But to comport with the new state law, codes enforcement and animal control officers will soon wear body cameras since they have enforcement power and also interact with the public, Benavidez said. 

An LCPD officer who does not turn on their camera can be reprimanded, terminated or even have their certification revoked, Benavidez said.

Virtual reality training for officers

The contract also includes the purchase of two Axon virtual reality “empathy training” units for Las Cruces police officers.

The VR training will put officers in one of “hundreds of scenarios” which simulate different types of police encounters, such as with people who have a serious mental illness like schizophrenia. The units use an Oculus brand headset.

Axon’s website shows schizophrenia, autism and suicidal ideation are currently available scenarios, with scenarios such as Alzheimer’s, post-traumatic stress and hearing loss coming soon.

Not only does the training let officers experience a simulated scenario from the police perspective, Benavidez said, but it also allows officers to simulate what it could feel like to have certain mental illnesses to help an officer understand how they might deescalate the situation in real life.

“It allows officers to experience both sides of it,” Benavidez said.

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“Shown to increase retention rates, VR lets you create a training environment that heightens senses and introduces stressors that are hard to replicate outside of real-world scenarios,” Axon says on its website related to its VR training units.

Benavidez said the empathy training will supplement the department’s current crisis intervention training program. It will be provided as a briefing training when available, he said.

He also said it doesn’t require a lot of training hours for an officer to complete and said he expects all officers will have to take it.

Michael McDevitt is a city and county government reporter for the Sun-News. He can be reached at 575-202-3205, mmcdevitt@lcsun-news.com or @MikeMcDTweets on Twitter.

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