Anchorage police officials say they have no timeline for when officers will start wearing body cameras. And the current policy draft is drawing concerns over accountability and transparency.
Anchorage voters approved the purchase of the cameras during an election last spring.
But Chief Michael Kerle said the department is still sorting through the thorny issues involved with implementing the policy.
“Just going to tell you, as the chief of police, I’m embarrassed that we sat here and said a year ago that we expected body cameras at the end of 2021,” Kerle said. “We’re here a year later and, to tell you the truth, we’re really not much closer to having body cameras.”
Kerle spoke at a meeting in Anchorage Friday, where he, as well as officials from the city legal department, presented to the Assembly and the Anchorage Public Safety Advisory Commission. Kerle said that because adding the cameras is a personnel change, the department would end up having to bargain with the police union to implement them, which he says could take months. Additionally, he said he would not immediately have all officers wearing cameras once the policy was finalized, instead opting to slowly implement them.
City officials say another hurdle is the legal concern over privacy. Embedded in the state’s constitution, Alaska has among the strictest right to privacy in the country.
“The people of the MOA voted for body cams. They did not vote to violate individual privacy,” said Chugiak/Eagle River Assembly member Jamie Allard. “Regardless if you’re innocent, guilty, a police officer or citizen, everybody needs to be treated with the privacy that our constitution allows for these individuals.”
Municipal lawyers Patrick Bergt and Blair Christensen said police footage of shootings and other crimes would not be automatically released to the public, and people wanting that footage would have to file records requests, even if they were the subjects of the footage.
Midtown Anchorage Assembly member Felix Rivera questioned what he described as a restrictive policy.
“I’m very concerned that the Municipality plans to never release the footage of police shootings to the public, period,” he said. “And that isn’t at all what the voters wanted when they supported this proposition and voted to increase their property taxes.”
Eight people spoke during 30 minutes of public testimony. Everyone who testified criticized the current camera policy draft, with many referencing recently released footage of Anchorage police fatally shooting 31-year-old Black man Bishar Hassan in 2019 as proof that the release of footage is of public interest.
Celeste Hodge Growden, president of the Alaska Black Caucus, took issue with the idea that cameras wouldn’t always be turned on.
“To hear the discussion surrounding impractical and impossible, meaning recording or not recording is at the discretion of the officer, that right there brings about additional concerns of transparency and accountability,” she said. “Bottom line, the cameras need to be operating at all times. That’s what transparency and accountability mean.”
West Anchorage Assembly member Kameron Perez-Verdia, who chairs the Assembly Public Safety Committee, said the Assembly plans to organize more public forums for residents to provide input on the draft body camera policy.