IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Abandoning a practice that has faced criticism, Taser International will no longer hire police chiefs with whom it has business relationships within weeks or months after they leave public service.
The maker of police stun guns and body cameras announced Thursday it would require a one-year “cooling off period” before entering into consulting contracts with former law enforcement officials to promote their experiences using Taser equipment.
The change follows New Mexico’s scathing state audit report Thursday that found Taser hired Albuquerque police chief Ray Schultz days after he stepped down in 2013 — even as he remained on the city payroll. The Associated Press reported in March on similar arrangements between the Scottsdale, Arizona-based company and former Fort Worth, Texas, police chief Jeffrey Halstead and former New Orleans Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas.
In all three cases, their departments had signed major contracts with Taser to purchase body cameras and video storage software, Evidence.com. Within months, the former chiefs were paid to travel and speak about how those tools were the future of policing to other municipal officials at Taser-sponsored technology summits around the country and, occasionally, the world.
Many cities and states already have ethics codes that call for a one- or two-year cooling off period before departing officials can work for vendors.
The company’s relationships with police officials have prompted reviews of ethics rules in Fort Worth and Salt Lake City, where Chief Chris Burbank didn’t have a consulting contract but gave speeches at some Taser events and recorded a promotional video for Evidence.com.
Taser has defended the relationships as standard for the industry and proper. But after they came under scrutiny in several cities, the company said that it has revised its contracting policy “with an eye to how we can do better in the future.”
“This will eliminate any perception of conflict of interest,” Taser general counsel Doug Klint said of the cooling-off period.
The company gave no indication that it would stop providing other perks that have been questioned, including paying for meals and airfare and hotels for current and potential law enforcement customers who travel to its headquarters to learn about products.
“Scottsdale in March isn’t a bad time either …” Taser salesman Andrew Grayson wrote in inviting New Orleans police officials to such an event in a January 2014 email recently obtained by the AP in an open records request.
Like some other vendors, Taser also sponsors parties and receptions around national conventions for police chiefs. Albuquerque officials were criticized for attending one, held in 2013 at a nightclub in downtown San Diego, in Thursday’s report.
Many of the state local and state rules requiring cooling off periods are narrowly written, leaving room for vendors to quickly hire former officials.
In New Orleans, Serpas has said the two-year cooling off period didn’t prevent him from accepting a Taser consulting contract months after he retired last year — as long as he did not represent the company in front of his former department.
In Albuquerque, Thursday’s report by State Auditor Tim Keller found that Taser offered Schultz a contract days after he stepped down. Taser said it believed Schultz had officially retired when he was offered the deal, but he remained on the city payroll for three more months.
Keller said Schultz likely violated city and state ethics laws in accepting the contract and having overlapping jobs, but whether he can be prosecuted may depend on the legal question of whether his consulting amounted to “employment” and “representation” of Taser. The city and state ethics laws have a one-year cooling off period containing that language, and Schultz’s lawyer said he doesn’t believe his client violated them.
Taser said it hired Schultz because he had a unique perspective, noting his department had abandoned a previous body camera vendor amid problems before adopting Taser’s products. He was paid a daily consulting rate plus travel expenses to travel to events, the company said.
Fort Worth city officials have said their ethics code doesn’t prohibit former employees such as Halstead from immediately going to work for a vendor once they leave employment. City manager David Cooke said Thursday the review on possible changes, led by human resources officials, was continuing.
“We’ll be doing something,” he said.
Shortly after leaving as chief in January, Halstead’s newly formed consulting group started hosting Taser events, such as one earlier this week in Scottsdale. “I really like consulting with Taser!” Halstead wrote Monday on his group’s Facebook page.