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Austin police body cameras on hold after court ruling

A Travis County judge on Friday issued a ruling that will delay Austin police’s deployment of body cameras, granting an order for the department’s contract to be placed on hold after a competing company sued.

The ruling by 419th District Court Judge Orlinda Naranjo also set a trial date of Nov. 28 for the lawsuit. The ruling indefinitely delays the execution of a contract between the city of Austin and Taser International, essentially preventing the Police Department from implementing its body camera program.

The second-place bidder for the contract to outfit Austin police officers with body cameras has sued the city, alleging that the bidding process was rigged in favor of Taser International.

RELATED: Lawsuit argues Austin’s police body camera bid process was unfair

Utility Associates gave a bid that was $3 million lower than the Taser contract. However, Austin police recommended Taser’s $12 million proposal in conjunction with a $5 million contract to buy iPhones for officers. The Austin City Council approved the contract in June.

“I’m pretty happy about the ruling,” said City Council Member Don Zimmerman, who voted against the Taser contract. “I’m looking forward to the November trial.”

Zimmerman said he plans to file a brief with the court in support of Utility’s protest.

“The court’s ruling is disappointing,” a statement from the city said. “An exhaustive review process was conducted for this procurement. The purchase and contract were approved by City Council. This judicial decision directly impacts the authority of the city to appropriately exercise discretion over its purchases of critical hardware. City staff is working to determine the appropriate next steps.”

ALSO READ: Council approves $17 million contracts for Austin police body cameras

A message to Utility’s lawyer in the case wasn’t returned.

The ruling is the latest stumbling block for the body camera initiative, which had wide support last year. Even though the Austin Police Department didn’t ask for body cameras, Mayor Steve Adler made it a focal point of the department’s budget.

The Police Department intended to begin equipping officers with body cameras this summer; the first cameras would have gone to officers who patrol the Sixth Street bar district. With the injunction in place and the possibility that the lawsuit could force the city to scrap its contract with Taser, it is unclear whether any officers will get body cameras this year.

In recent years, body cameras have gained support as tools that not only would help officers gather evidence, but would also create more oversight in police use-of-force cases.

During a test phase of Taser’s Axon body camera platform, which includes an iPod and a mobile app, city officials said they discovered the usefulness of having smartphones for certain aspects of police work.

Utility’s CEO Robert McKeeman has called that explanation “BS.” Utility’s platform is based in an Android smartphone.

In a bid scoring sheet, Utility scored behind Taser in all categories except price.

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