Pittsburgh City Council members unanimously voted Monday to approve the mayor entering the city into a $10.9 million contract for new body cameras and Tasers for the entire police force.

They did so without reviewing the specifics of the expenses in the five-year contract, which extends through 2024.

On the evening of Oct. 31, Council President Bruce Kraus requested a copy of the contract from Pittsburgh City Clerk Brenda Pree, who said Monday she didn’t know whether the contract had been finalized.

Kraus’ request came after PublicSource asked council members last week if they had reviewed the contract for the proposed purchase of 950 body cameras and 950 Tasers, along with service maintenance and upgrades for five years.

Council in January voted to increase the cost of a previous body camera contract from $1.5 million to $2.3 million. The initial contract for 550 cameras from Arizona-based Axon Enterprise Inc. was approved in 2017 without a competitive bid. 

At an Oct. 30 subcommittee meeting, the only financial question council members asked about the new deal was whether it had been budgeted. Police Chief Scott Schubert assured them it had.

Before Monday’s 8-0 vote, with Councilwoman Erika Strassburger absent, Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith, said the increased costs were expected. 

“The cost is increasing, but we all know it’s because we’re getting upgrades,” Kail-Smith said. 

Those new upgrades include body cameras that automatically record when a gun is unholstered or patrol lights are engaged and do not necessitate an officer to hit record. The new Tasers have the capacity to fire twice in close proximity instead of requiring officers to reload a cartridge after a single discharge. 

Pittsburgh Chief of Police Scott Schubert after speaking to City Council about a new body camera and Taser contract.
Pittsburgh Chief of Police Scott Schubert after speaking to City Council on Oct. 30 about a proposed body camera and Taser contract. (Photo by Nicole C. Brambila/PublicSource)

Schubert told the council subcommittee last week that the proposed agreement with Axon will give police access to new technology as it advances. 

Councilwoman Deb Gross said at Monday’s meeting that she would like to see the contract made available to the public on this issue and others of particular community interest or expense. However, she said she did not want to hold up council’s approval.

Following the meeting, Gross told PublicSource that council should not be expected to authorize multimillion dollar expenditures without weighing community impacts.

“I think we’re going to have to legislate differently,” Gross said, adding greater transparency would involve changing the city ordinance to require contracts signed by the mayor and return to council for further review.  

Pointing to the information staff provided on the Axon contract, which showed the annual costs through 2024, Gross said, “This is not enough information.”

On Oct. 31, PublicSource requested from the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police a copy of the Axon contract in an email that also included a number of questions about the upgrade and what will become of the body cameras the department currently owns. 

Cara Cruz, a public safety spokeswoman, did not respond. 

Tim McNulty, spokesman for Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, referred questions back to the Department of Public Safety. McNulty said he was unaware whether Peduto had seen the proposal.

“The mayor has certainly talked to the public safety director and police chief about this,” McNulty said, adding the mayor has 10 days to sign the contract.   

Nicole C. Brambila is the local government reporter for PublicSource. She can be reached at 412-515-0072 or nicole@publicsource.org.

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Nicole C. Brambila was a reporter for PublicSource between 2019 and 2020.