PHOENIX, Feb 6 (Reuters) - Controversial Arizona lawman Joe Arpaio is spending $1 million to buy 700 body cameras for sheriff’s deputies as part of a court ruling that found his office racially profiled Latino drivers, the company selling the cameras said on Friday.
The devices, which will be worn by officers to record their actions in the field, are due to be delivered to the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office by early March under an agreement with Scottsdale, Arizona-based TASER International Inc.
TASER spokesman Steve Tuttle said the AXON Flex cameras would amount to “legal body armor” for deputies. “It will be there to protect them when they are doing their jobs,” he said.
The use of body cameras was among the requirements issued by U.S. District Court Judge Murray Snow in an order that stemmed from a 2007 racial profiling lawsuit brought on behalf of Latinos pulled over during traffic stops.
Following a trial, Snow found that Arpaio’s deputies did engage in racial profiling and unreasonably detained drivers during operations.
Arpaio, an 82-year-old lawman who bills himself as “America’s toughest sheriff,” rejects the findings and has appealed the ruling to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The sheriff had initially planned for his officers to use vehicle-mounted cameras, but later agreed with plaintiffs that they would use smaller, mobile body devices that can be fixed to lapels, hats, eyewear or motorcycle helmets.
Tuttle said the initial cost of the cameras was more than $1 million, and that the overall cost of the deal to taxpayers over five years would be $4.3 million.
He said the company was providing free storage of the recordings made by the cameras, as well as free upgrades to the hardware every two-and-a-half-years.
In a statement, Arpaio said the cameras “will be a welcomed addition to my office and our fight against crime.”
The embattled sheriff, who was first elected in 1992 and told supporters last week that he will run for a seventh term, has triggered controversy for his tough stance on illegal immigration.
Snow is considering holding civil contempt proceedings against Arpaio and his office in April for violating the court’s orders. (Reporting by David Schwartz; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Mohammad Zargham)