The Alaska Black Caucus is suing the Municipality of Anchorage over the city’s failure to put body-worn cameras on police officers more than two years after voters approved their purchase and implementation.
The local advocacy nonprofit filed the lawsuit on Wednesday. Its attorneys argue that the city and the police department are “thwarting the process by proffering one excuse after another, with no end in sight.”
Rich Curtner, an attorney with the Alaska Black Caucus, says it should not be taking Anchorage this long to get cameras in place. Police departments in rural Alaska communities like Nome and Kotzebue, as well as Kenai and Juneau have body cameras on officers, and the Alaska State Troopers are currently working on a proposal to get their officers outfitted with them as well.
“It happens everywhere else except Anchorage,” Curtner said. “There’s no reason why it shouldn’t happen, especially since the voters not only voted to support this, but they supported it with tax money, property taxes.”
Voters chose to approve a $1.8 million tax levy in April 2021 for the purchase and use of body-worn cameras by Anchorage police.
Anchorage police spokeswoman Renee Oistad said the department will host a news conference related to the lawsuit on Thursday morning.
The effort to get the cameras has been delayed numerous times, through three police chiefs. The Anchorage Police and the Anchorage Police Department Employees Association, the union for officers, have been locked in negotiations since last year, opting to bring in an outside arbitrator to settle the dispute. Officials have said a main concern is whether officers will be able to review camera footage before making statements.
While arbitration was set to begin this month, officials with the police department announced in early April that it would be delayed to the fall.
Curtner says the Alaska Black Caucus has asked officials with Mayor Dave Bronson’s administration multiple times for information on the delay, but they’ve been stonewalled.
“Who is the arbitrator? When is it going to be scheduled?” Curtner said. “Everything has been in the dark. What are the issues? Why is the union and the police department not able to come to some type of agreement on the policy?”
Hans Rodvik, a spokesman for Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson, declined to specifically address the lawsuit. He said in an email that the mayor is in favor of getting the body cameras on officers.
“The Mayor supports having APD officers wear body-worn cameras, and respects the will of the voters who approved funding for information technology systems, including body-worn cameras,” Rodvik wrote. “Body-worn cameras are good public policy and will enhance transparency for both the public and APD. The Administration is committed to implementing this technology as expeditiously as possible.”
Curtner says the Alaska Black Caucus agrees with that sentiment, and is hopeful that their lawsuit will solve the dispute. The nonprofit is asking a Superior Court judge to declare that the city must comply with the will of the voters and move to get body cameras on police officers.
“One of the things we suggest is some kind of master help make them negotiate a settlement on this,” Curtner said. “But they should be able to settle it themselves, and the sooner, the better.”
This story has been updated.