Seven On Your Side investigates: Lost tax dollars and HPD body cameras

Seven On Your Side investigates: Lost tax dollars and HPD body cameras

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Police body cameras are an ever popular growing trend that departments across the nation are buying into.

Four years ago, the Hattiesburg Police Department, under the Frazier Bolton administration, spent over $100,000 on body cameras, but they never hit the streets.

Seven on Your Side took a closer look at what happened to tax dollars, and why HPD still does not have body cameras.

"There is a lot more to it than we get into, because we don't want to make a large purchase that's not going to be quality that's going to withstand our job, what we go through on a daily basis and still be able to protect us and the citizens," Hattiesburg Police Lt. Jon Traxler said.

The Hattiesburg Police Department went ahead and made that purchase for over $100,000 as a "Sole Source Item," meaning the merchandise was not bid on by the city.

The purchase was 143 body cameras from a company known as Vidmic, Inc.

"We received the body cams and they didn't work like the prototype that we had received I'm told by the police department, they just didn't do what we wanted them to do," Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree said.

In 2012, months after the original purchase, the cameras were never given to officers, and were shipped back to the company in May 2012.

Fast forward four years later the city is still out a $100,000, some of which comes from city and federal tax dollars.

"The citizens have been ripped off, and we are responsible for the money," City Council President Kim Bradley said. "My understanding is the purchase order was issued and the payment was made, but the company had some financial issues."

That company is now listed as Safety Innovations, which sells the Vidmic products that have been upgraded since Hattiesburg's original purchase.

Seven on Your Side reached out to Safety Innovations CEO Michael Nelson to ask about his involvement in the matter.

"I don't know anything about that transaction," Nelson said. "I know that they went out of business, and the assets of the business were purchased by another group and since then we have purchased the assets of the group that took over from them, so I don't really have any knowledge about that earlier transaction at all. I think we would really like to help them in any way we can and if they want to approach those discussions we will do it in good faith."

Seven on Your Side asked DuPree if the city is trying to move forward with getting the money back.

"Oh yea, well $70,000 of it was federal money, and $30,000 was actually city of Hattiesburg money," DuPree said.

Further investigation by Seven on Your Side discovered those numbers are backwards. Public records show that $70,000 is actually city money, and $30,000 is from a Federal Byrne Grant.

Seven on Your Side spoke with former city attorney Charles Lawrence who said he had extensive contact with the company as well as its attorney. Lawrence claimed someone from the company sent an email saying they would "make everything good" from the situation.

Still, four years later and no money has been refunded and no body cameras have been distributed to the officers.

Dupree expressed his concerns over the importance of the body cameras, and the set back that has taken place from the issues with the original purchase.

"Body cams can make sure they are using the best police practices that they can, but we also use them to make sure we are keeping the public safe, and that we are operating the way we should be when we come in contact with the public," DuPree said. "It keeps everybody honest, and where they should be."

Hattiesburg Police Chief Anthony Parker echoed DuPree's support of body cameras for the force.

Parker said he fully supports the department having body cameras and thinks they are an asset to any officer.

For the time being, the city is still in a holding pattern with the body camera situation since no legal action has been taken to recover the lost funds.

The 2015-2016 proposed budget has another $180,000 dollars of tax payer's money earmarked for 125 new body cameras for the Hattiesburg Police Department.