Sheriff’s office had a deal with a vehicle detection company, then it was scrapped

An approved deal between the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office and Flock Safety, a license plate recognition company, has been scrapped. (Daily herd safety / courtesy of Port City)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY – The New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office (NHCSO) recently applied for new surveillance equipment. The council of commissioners approved the deal earlier this month, without looking for competing bids, but the contract was never signed.

Despite its initial approval, the county backed off the agreement to purchase new equipment after learning new information about the company NHCSO wanted to contract with.

On the wish list of local law enforcement agencies was a fleet of stand-alone cameras – equipped with automatic license plate recognition technology – capable of recording a myriad of data about passing vehicles from their intended positions. in schools and county parks.

Camera maker Flock Safety, Inc. had offered a two-year promotional deal to the sheriff’s office. For $ 43,750, the company would install 15 motion-activated cameras, provide one year of service, and offer a free benefit. Costs for the second year have been set at $ 65,000.

According to state law, local governments wishing to sign agreements over $ 30,000 must generally open projects to bid, which helps to ensure conditions of competition and reasonable prices. There are many exceptions: for example, if a needed product is only available from a single source, or if “standardization or compatibility is the primary consideration”.

Flock Safety has positioned its cameras as the only option in the market fully supported by Axon Enterprise, Inc., the public safety technology company that manufactures the body cameras used by NHSO. Axon also operates Evidence.com, a cloud-based system that enables law enforcement to centrally store and manage data.

The pitch was allegedly exclusive: Evidence recorded on Flock cameras would automatically upload to evidence.com, allowing for simple and full integration with consumer technology already in use by the NHSO.

On December 6, the Council of Commissioners approved a resolution awarding Flock Safety a sole-source contract, formally waiving the tendering process and giving the Sheriff’s Office the green light to contract with Flock Safety (voting was one of three items on the meeting’s agenda; no substantive public discussion on the subject took place).

Two days after the vote – before the contract was signed – new information emerged, raising questions about the methodology by which Flock Safety and Axon present themselves to local governments: not just in New Hanover County but across the country.

As it turns out, Flock Safety is one of several companies in the vehicle recognition business that can integrate to some extent with Axon’s Evidence.com. What’s unique about the couple’s relationship, however, is that Axon has made an “uncontrolled, minority investment in Flock Safety,” and the two companies tout a formal partnership. According to its website, Axon has “the ability to commit additional capital over time through warrants conditional on certain performance measures of the partnership.”

The county is not moving forward with a herd safety contract at this time, according to communications manager Jessica Loeper.

“The finance office has been informed that there are other companies that can integrate with Axon, but Flock is the only one directly supported by Axon,” Loeper wrote to Port City Daily in an email. “Based on this information, the county’s financial and legal departments have determined that the contract should be initiated if the sheriff’s office determines that it wishes to move forward with a software and hardware solution for the automatic detection of car plates. ‘registration. “

Although Flock Safety and Axon maintain a financial partnership, other companies may also integrate their services with Evidence.com. (Daily herd safety / courtesy of Port City)

Flock security cameras are currently in use by more than 1,000 law enforcement agencies nationwide. The Atlanta-based company was founded in 2017 and has reportedly raised more than $ 230 in venture capital. Its iconic Falcon cameras capture high-resolution photos of license plates – with the ability to match vehicles to various hotlists – and record other details about passing cars.

“The safety of the herd is the alone Axon LPR [license plate recognition] integration partner, ”according to an email from company spokesperson Holly Beilin,“ we are therefore the only LPR provider that is natively and officially integrated with Evidence.com. (Beilin declined to comment on the specific situation in New Hanover County).

The company also has an exclusive partnership with Axon as the only license plate recognition provider to be integrated with Axon’s Fleet 3 in-car video system. The device offers potential law enforcement agencies the ability to “[t]turn your fleet into a dynamic array of plate-reading cameras. “(Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Lt. Jerry Brewer said the NHCSO is currently using the second-generation model, but moving to the new model).

Axon announced in june that Fleet 3 had started shipping to customers. The press release mentioned additional partnerships with Cradlepoint, Inc., a mobile wireless networking solutions company, and Airgain Incorporated, which produces antennas that wirelessly connect Axon products.

“Axon’s partnership enables law enforcement to deploy a network of fixed and mobile ALPR systems at a very affordable price by delivering the industry-leading and ethically designed fixed ALPR solution from Flock Safety alongside the solution. Axon Fleet 3 mobile and on-board video LPR. according to the press release.

In early November, a business specialist in the sheriff’s office informed two county risk management officials that they would be signing a contract with Flock Safety shortly.

“It will be a rush,” according to the business specialist’s email, “because we have to get it in place by 12/31 to get the promotional discount.”

According to documents obtained by Port City Daily, Flock Safety ran a promotion starting in September whereby customers who sign a two-year contract for at least 15 Falcon cameras would also receive 1 square mile of free shot detection coverage. for 12 months (after the free year, the standard rate of $ 25,000 per square mile of audio coverage applies).

On December 8, two days after the commissioners voted on the contract, the county received a competition warning. In an email to the commissioners, the executive vice president of a competing company speculated that Axon and Flock had told the county that it would be impossible for other license plate recognition providers to achieve integration with Axon technology. Yet such a claim was not true, he reported.

The competitor – who has attached a screenshot showing data from his company’s devices integrated on evidence.com – has asked the board of commissioners to reverse Flock’s award and seek bids.

In a letter dated the same day, Josh Isner, Axon’s chief revenue officer, spoke to the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office. In a brief post, he relayed that a “single source rationale exists because [Axon] is the only digital evidence management system with the express right to integrate Flock’s automated license plate recognition technology with Axon Evidence services.

On the Wednesday before Christmas, Lisa Wurtzbacher, county finance director, gave an overview of the commissioners and senior officials. In an email sent to them, she said the single-source contract request involving Flock Safety, presented at the December 6 meeting, “was based on information received by the sheriff’s office which indicated that Flock Safety was Axon’s only integration partner “.

Further conversations have revealed that in the vehicle recognition industry, “Axon may officially only support Flock Safety”, but at the same time “a number” of suppliers in the field are already integrating with Axon. . “With this additional information,” Wurtzbacher wrote, “we would like to change direction with this sole-source contract and, instead, continue the tender for this service.”

Loeper, the county spokesperson, said finance staff plan to look into this in detail and will likely develop an internal process where sole-source contract requests are further vetted to ensure they are meet legal requirements.

Like law enforcement agencies across the country, the NHSO uses both Axon and Evidence.com products. The integration achieved through the unification of the services of Axon and Flock Safety can certainly be beneficial. According to documents linked to the Council of Commissioners’ resolution of 6 December, going ahead with Flock Safety “would avoid having to buy or use additional storage means”. Some competitors, however, believe that Axon and Flock Safety tipped the scales in the game by leveraging their financial relationship.

Local governments that have already contracted with Flock Safety have done so with and without the tendering process. Given the prevalence of Axon technology among law enforcement and the widespread use of Evidence.com, some localities have introduced competitive license plate recognition criteria that inherently benefit Flock Safety.

Springfield, Illinois, for example, solicited offers from license plate recognition providers this year. The 11-point scoring criteria included “integration with existing systems” and “integration with on-board cameras in patrol cars” (Springfield Police Department uses Axon body-worn cameras).

Of the three bidders, Flock Safety obtained the highest overall evaluation score – the highest score obtains the recommendation – despite the third place in the criterion “cost to the city”.

When Huntington Beach, Calif., Sought to contract with a license plate recognition company, it initially asked potential bidders to prepare with systems integrated at Evidence.com. A competitor then raised concerns with the city: Since Flock Safety had the only official partnership with Axon, in the worst-case scenario, other companies could see their less official ties to Evidence.com being restricted if a such a precondition existed.

In November, Huntington Beach decided to cancel the bid and planned to relaunch the process, this time without mentioning integration with evidence.com among the bidders’ requirements.


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