Miami-Dade Police Ask for $6.5 Million for New Tasers in No-Bid Contract

Tasers have been promoted to police departments in recent years as a safe way to de-escalate dangerous situations. Yet the devices can be lethal — a 2017 Reuters investigation turned up 1,081 cases in which someone died after being shocked. Miami-Dade's three largest police departments have also routinely misused Tasers. In 2014, New Times reported local cops were tasing mentally ill people, the homeless, and children as young as 6.

Several law enforcement agencies across the nation are now rethinking their use of Tasers. But here in Miami-Dade, police want to sign another five-year contract with Axon Enterprise, the company formerly known as Taser International. The Miami-Dade Police Department is asking county commissioners to approve a $6.5 million deal with Axon to provide MDPD with 2,000 new Tasers.

"This new weapon, which is a Taser 7, is much improved, much safer than the other ones," Miami-Dade Police Director Juan Perez told the commission's public safety committee Tuesday.

The Taser 7, which came out last year, was redesigned to be more effective, but there have been no independent studies showing it to be safer. According to Axon, the new model has more pulses per second and an updated cartridge system that causes the darts "to fly straighter and faster with nearly twice the kinetic energy for better connection to the target" — AKA the person being tased.
The county's current contract with Axon expires at the end of June. Theoretically, that means Miami-Dade could request bids for new electronic weapons. But because Axon essentially operates as a monopoly, county leaders have asked commissioners to waive the bidding process and sign the new five-year deal without change. A memo from Deputy Mayor Maurice Kemp notes that "competition is not possible at this time."

During a discussion about Axon at Tuesday's committee meeting, Commissioner Sally Heyman called Tasers "a good product" but said she was troubled by the no-bid contract. "There is no negotiation," Heyman said. "Either we do business with them, or we don't have Tasers. So I have a concern about that."

Several companies have tried to manufacture electronic weapons since 2003, when Axon bought out its competitor. But Axon's legal team has successfully challenged almost every other manufacturer in court. Phazzer Electronics, a competitor that had previous contracts with Miami-Dade County, has been barred from selling its products due to a patent infringement lawsuit from Axon.

Perez conceded Tuesday that Axon is "pretty much the only game in the market" but said the contract is necessary to equip officers with the devices. Commissioner Joe Martinez agreed the county basically has no other choice.

"Either you buy it from them, or you don't have Tasers, period," Martinez said.

After a brief debate, Heyman, Martinez, and Rebeca Sosa — the only members of the public safety committee who were in attendance Tuesday — ultimately voted in favor of the contract. The item will go before the board March 19 for final approval.
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Jessica Lipscomb is the former news editor of Miami New Times.

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