Anchorage Police Department and union to settle body camera debate in arbitration next year

From across the street is the Anchorage Police Department, where an American and Alaskan Flag sit in front of a parking lot full of police cars.
Pedestrians walk through the rain in front of the Anchorage Police Station in dowtown Anchorage on August 31, 2022. (Valerie Kern/Alaska Public Media)

The Anchorage Police Department and the police officers’ union still disagree over a policy for body-worn cameras. They now expect to move into arbitration early next year — bringing in a third-party to help resolve the dispute.

Officials shared the update at an Assembly public safety meeting Wednesday morning. It comes more than a year and a half after Anchorage voters approved a $1.8 million dollar tax levy to purchase and implement body cameras for police officers. Frustration has mounted among community members over how long the process has taken.

Deputy Police Chief Sean Case said the main issue holding up approval is when officers would be able to access footage from the cameras. 

“The primary thing that we’re going to be discussing moving forward is general use of force issues, and when officers can review that video before either writing a report or providing a statement if there’s a criminal investigation involved,” Case said.

Police department officials say they won’t comment further on the mediation process, or the policy, until it’s finalized. 

Municipal attorney Blair Christensen said the arbitration process between the city, the police department and the police union, would likely wrap up six to nine months from now. Ideally, the end result would be a final body camera policy.

In the meantime, Anchorage Police Chief Michael Kerle said the department is seeking bids for a body camera vendor. Kerle said once the purchase is final, he expects to start training officers to use the cameras, even before arbitration concludes. 

“Simultaneously, we’ll actually get the cameras, train our officers, so when everything is done, we just hit the street going,” Kerle said.

Once the policy is approved, Kerle said he anticipates initially outfitting 20 to 30 officers with the cameras to “work on the bugs,” before issuing them to all officers. 

Jeremy Conkling, head of the police union, said tentatively, the actual arbitration would start in April at the earliest. However, he said the union remains hopeful that the disagreement over the body camera policy can be resolved before then.  

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