The privatization of public services and its ramifications has been a recent theme in our weekly questions. The pressing issue of police violence has once again brought this critical question to the forefront. A large number of corporate interests have a very serious stake in the matter—manufacturers of guns, police armor, drug tests, and bomb robots all stand to benefit from the tragic killings both of, and by, police officers. As The Verge put it last week, “In a week of police violence, Wall Street won.”
One particular company has profited above all. The market for body cameras is exploding, as the public demands increased accountability for police officers. And Taser International, the company best known for their stun guns, has quietly managed to corner the market.
Various investigations have uncovered numerous perks and incentives offered by Taser to police chiefs to get them this market share. Chiefs are hired as consultants, sent around the world to luxury hotels for speeches and events. Taser also appears to be openly encouraging a revolving door—the same people deciding on no-bid contracts with Taser are then hired at the company months later. These tactics seem to be working, as police departments appear to be going out of their way to give Taser their business. Marketplace recently quoted a Philadelphia Police Department procurement memo that justified a no-bid contract with Taser by simply claiming that a competitive bidding process would take too long.
This tightknit relationship with police departments is starting to raise eyebrows. Compounding this concern, Taser also controls all police footage that is recorded on their cameras and uploaded to their website, evidence.com. As this important documentation continues to play a role in the national conversation about policing and violence, Taser’s near-stranglehold over the evidence has some people, like San Francisco’s Public Defender Jeff Adachi, nervous. “Taser is a company that essentially markets to law enforcement. If you look at their website, they say, ‘We make things that put bad guys in jail,’” Mr. Adachi told Reveal News last year. “It’s one thing to sell Tasers to law enforcement, and you can see why they’d market it that way. Quite something different if they’re talking about collecting evidence that’s going to be used in a criminal case. If you’re going to be partisan and only help one side, how is that going to affect the fairness of the criminal justice system?”
What do you think?
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