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Baltimore police body camera bid, still not made public, under legal review

Baltimore's spending panel agreed Wednesday to buy body cameras for more than 2,500 police officers, but the Rawlings-Blake administration said the price — expected to be in the millions of dollars — will not be made public for at least a week.

Baltimore's spending panel agreed Wednesday to buy body cameras for more than 2,500 police officers, but the bid by Taser International is now under legal review because officials found a problem with the paperwork.

The city Board of Estimates voted 5-0 to accept the bid — the only one in the running — without knowing what the Scottsdale, Ariz., firm wants to charge. When the price was unsealed a few hours later, the bid was immediately sent to the city's law department.

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It was unclear whether the problem put Taser's bid in jeopardy. Nine other bids were rejected by a panel of unnamed city officials before the cost of any of the proposals was unsealed.

Neither the cost of the Taser bid nor the results of the legal review will be made public for at least a week. Officials expect the body camera program to cost the city $8 million to $10 million per year.

A spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said that "something in the pricing documents" submitted by Taser required a legal opinion.

"Until it's read into the record, it's not public to any of us," spokesman Howard Libit said.

Libit said the review is not expected to delay the program.

A spokesman from Taser declined to say how much the company wants to charge the city. Spokesman Steve Tuttle said individual cameras cost $400 to $600 and accompanying technology costs $15 to $89 a month.

Any city contract greater than $50,000 must be subjected to a competitive bidding process. The winner is chosen by the five-member Board of Estimates, the majority of which is appointed by the mayor.

The board met at 9 a.m. to approve the contract and reconvened at noon to open the Taser bid price.

The Rawlings-Blake administration says a panel of city officials reviewed the bids to determine whether they met the city's requirements for the cameras. The administration has not disclosed who was on the panel, how the bids were scored or why nine of them were rejected.

Damon Effingham, the policy manager for the good-government group Common Cause Maryland, said it was "unfortunate that a program designed to foster accountability through transparency is being supplied via a procurement process [that's] completely opaque."

Effingham said Common Cause is "incredibly supportive" of body cameras for police.

"We plan on paying close attention to this process as it goes forward," he said.

Deputy City Solicitor David Ralph said procurement laws kept officials from disclosing the price.

"The mayor can't just say, 'Hey, ignore all of the bidding laws, the procurement law and let's just do what we want to do,'" he said. "That's not the way it works."

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The bid was opened by the city's deputy comptroller, Bernice H. Taylor, and within minutes referred to the law department without discussion.

Taylor said after the meeting that she could not comment on any bid referred to city lawyers.

Comptroller Joan M. Pratt said the steps that led to the board's approval of the project followed city protocol. If the price Taser wants to charge is more than the city wants to pay, she said, the Rawlings-Blake administration can negotiate.

"That's the process," Pratt said. "They're opened up technically to see if they meet the qualifications, and then the price proposals are opened later. You don't want to be influenced by the price."

The bids were submitted in two sealed envelopes. The first, which contained details about the program, was unsealed for the technical review. The second, opened Wednesday, contained only the price.

"It's opened up, and that's when you know if there's a question or not," Ralph said. "That's the first time you would know."

Officials expect to finalize the contract by March 1.

Rawlings-Blake said Tuesday that Taser won the contract based on the technical review. She did not attend either of Wednesday's meetings.

The mayor and her deputies have said the process is a common approach to soliciting contract proposals, and one they said would produce a competitively priced bid.

"One mistake can cost the taxpayers millions," Rawlings-Blake said Tuesday. "This was far more complex than simply going down the street to Radio Shack and grabbing cameras off the shelf."

Taser's selection follows a pilot program the city launched in October. More than 150 officers were outfitted with body cameras from Taser and two other vendors. Officers preferred the Taser camera, police officials said, for its ability to keep track of information after the video is shot, its storage capacity and its battery life, according to police officials.

In other business, the board approved $135,000 in police settlements to resolve two police misconduct lawsuits.

Kianga Mwamba will receive $60,000 for an alleged assault and illegal arrest in March 2014 after she used her cellphone to record the incident. She says police deleted a video from her phone while she was in custody. The video was backed up on the cloud.

City Solicitor George Nilson called it a "classic case deserving of a settlement."

"This is a case where the facts were subject to multiple interpretations," Nilson said after the board meeting. "When you go before a Baltimore City jury, you roll the dice and you take a chance on which [side] will prevail."

The board agreed to pay Leonard Key $75,000 in an excessive-force case. Key said he suffered a fractured left ankle that requires physical therapy, ongoing medical treatment and surgery.

The city has agreed to pay about $13 million since 2011 in settlements and court judgments for lawsuits alleging brutality and other police misconduct. The city has agreed to pay $145,000 this year to settle a wrongful-death lawsuit.

Baltimore Sun reporter Kevin Rector contributed to this article.

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