Phoenix police shopping list: Body cams, 4G and a brainwave monitor
The Phoenix Police Department will spend millions of dollars to upgrade antiquated cellphone technology, outfit more officers with body-worn cameras and — perhaps most unusually — buy brain scanners for police training on “violent encounters.”
The roughly $3 million tech-laden list is the latest in a growing, mind-bending tally of police projects recently considered by Phoenix officials. With a price tag totaling hundreds of millions of dollars, those new buildings, staff increases and vehicle upgrades are likely to come up again next year in a question to taxpayers.
But the new technology is already on the way.
$60K Brainwave Scanner
Phoenix police will spend $60,000 on a high-tech brainwave-monitoring system endorsed by elite athletes to help reduce officer use-of-force incidents, including shootings.
The city will be among the only law enforcement groups nationally to use it.
Phoenix City Council gave the go-ahead earlier this month for police to buy 20 Versus headsets that monitor brain waves and activity. Officials also authorized the purchase of 20 iPods that pair with the headsets and 880 neuroperformance assessments.
Phoenix police officers have shot at 40 people since Jan. 1, according to records maintained by The Arizona Republic. At least 19 of those cases resulted in a death, and the department has surged past 2013’s record high of 31 police shootings in a calendar year.
A $149,000 outside study has been underway since summer, looking for other explanations behind the spike in violence. Findings are expected in coming months.
The $1,000 devices from Neuro Therapeutics use electroencephalography sensors and electrodes to map brain activity. It pairs with an Apple device on which the user plays an app-based game that assesses neurological strengths and weaknesses.
The idea is to help users think more calmly and clearly, especially during dynamic situations. Police said it would help them assess and improve officers’ “critical thinking skills to better address their performance during violent encounters.”
“We are hoping to help officers reach peak performance under stress by measuring brain activity in different circumstances,” Sgt. Vince Lewis said. “Our aim is to help officers balance their emotional reactions with their cognitive abilities while under stress.”
Neuro Therapeutics, a Scottsdale-based company that started in 2017, markets the devices for athletes. Skiers, swimmers, and basketball players are among those who have said it helped them learn to control nerves and focus in high-stakes competition.
The same brainwave patterns and training could be a boon for first responders, company CEO Noel Ford said. Specifically, it could help them find ways to deal with impulse control, focus and teach them how to decompress after a shift.
“The assessment will determine what that officer might need more help with,” Ford said. “That’s going to be beneficial to them for dealing with those very stressful situations.”
The company has sold about 600 Versus headsets and worked with one other police department, Ford said. She declined to say which one, saying instead she hoped to work with more first responders.
The one-year contract for the brainwave monitor starts Dec. 11.
(At least) $1.2 million: Body Cameras
While oft-discussed in policing today, body-worn cameras remain a rarity in Phoenix.
The department has about 300 VIEVUcameras assigned to patrol officers who are the likeliest to be the first at a scene. That’s a fraction of the nearly 3,000 sworn officers employed at Phoenix police and the approximately 500 officers working at any given time.
The goal for years has been to outfit all first-responders with the cameras, officials have said previously.
The delay is partly because of drama surrounding a 2016 bidding war rife with improper communications between vendors and city officials. High-ranking city leaders were also accused improper meetings and trying to re-draw requirements in favor of Valley-based Axon (Taser at the time) against VieVu (formerly Axon’s main competitor).
Axon earlier this year acquired VIEVU and cemented its power over the on-officer camera market. Axon is likely among the companies vying for the Phoenix body-worn camera contract, though that information remains under wraps.
Lewis declined to comment about the ongoing procurement process, citing limitations recommended by the department’s lawyers.
“We are at a critical juncture in the procurement, and we don’t want to do anything to jeopardize a process that we hope to conclude in the near future,” Lewis said. “So much has gone into the process, and it should retain its integrity.”
An Axon spokeswoman, likewise, declined to comment for this story, saying it was their company’s policy to remain silent during procurement processes in Phoenix and elsewhere.
When it comes to shootings by police — among the highest profile and most scrutinized incidents in law enforcement — only a fraction of the 40 this year by Phoenix police have been caught on camera.
The department has provided footage to The Republic from just five.
Chief Jeri Williams has repeatedly championed a transparency protocol focused especially on camera footage from critical incidents, though the department has not measured up when it comes to releasing existing footage within 30 days, as written.
If and when the camera expansion unfolds, it could coincide with revamped records keeping.
All of that could — could — finally streamline the availability and release of body-cam video.
City officials said they “would prefer” to have a body-worn camera contract in place by the start of January and a rollout to follow quickly thereafter.
$1.1 million: Cell Service & WI-FI?
There was a time when 3G was the network of choice.
That time has long since passed.
Verizon — the carrier Phoenix contracts with for cell phone and remote connectivity — has transitioned to faster, more reliable 4G service. Whether downloading images or uploading documents, the network has become a standard for everyone with a smartphone.
MORE: FBI crime report shows national decline, but uptick in metro-Phoenix
Phoenix police cruisers and even some precincts are stuck circa 2013.
Most of the department’s approximately 1,000 marked patrol vehicles are equipped with 3G cellular antennas, making them paralyzingly slow and increasingly incompatible with Verizon’s network, police say.
“This is causing many problems with officers in the field as they try to process calls on their (computers) and the connection drops,” officials wrote in council documents. “This issue can cause corrupt data, lost data and inefficiencies in processing calls.”
Officials expect to spend $644,000 through grants to get the system up to speed. That would be on top of $487,000 to install a more reliable Wi-Fi network — yes, like residents have at home — in the department’s nine precincts.
What it all means into 2019
Phoenix residents will likely hear a lot about police spending plans next year.
Police and the city are working on plans to increase staffing, upgrade vehicles and even replace the 44-year-old downtown Phoenix headquarters building: 29,000 square feet in the basement is unusable, and parts of the aged building are prone to flooding.
Vehicles, stations upgrades and outright replacements are on par to cost more than $350 million, according to planning documents.
Efforts are underway to get a bond proposal on the ballot next year.
“Public safety is the number one thing. It’s not something we can ignore any longer.” Mayor Thelda Williams said in an October meeting. “The longer we wait, the more expensive it will be.”