Some Anchorage police officers are wearing body cameras, more than two years after Anchorage voters approved a tax hike to pay for them.
Since mid-November, 54 officers have been trained and outfitted with cameras, Deputy Police Chief Sean Case said Tuesday. That’s about a quarter of all patrol officers. The department is able to install about four cameras a day on officers and their vehicles, Case said, so it’ll still take a while longer to get all 350 officers equipped.
“It’s going to take some months to do,” Case said.
In the wake of George Floyd’s murder in 2020 and amid protests and renewed calls for better police accountability, Anchorage voters in May 2021 approved a $1.6 million dollar tax levy to buy and equip city police officers with body cameras. The process was drawn out, with the police department and union taking months to agree on a set of policies and procedures around body-worn cameras, leading to frustration among Anchorage residents and a lawsuit from the Alaska Black Caucus.
Under the approved policy, Anchorage officers are required to turn on their cameras any time they interact with the public. Members of the public can access the footage by filing a records request with the city, after police finish their initial investigations related to the footage.
Case said there are some exceptions.
“The prosecutor is going to have it, the defense attorneys are going to have it because it’s required that, you know, they have access to information,” he said. “Now, if you’re a victim of a crime, and your crime is being prosecuted, are you going to be able to get hands on a police report or a video prior to the resolution of the case? Yes.”
Another exception is whenever there is a critical incident with officers, like a police shooting, high-profile hostage situation or mass casualty event.
Last month, an officer fired at a suspect who police say pointed a pepper spray gun at the officer. Police say nobody was injured, and the officer who shot at the suspect was not yet equipped with a body-worn camera.
In those cases, when officers fire their weapons, the body camera policy allows for the police chief to proactively release footage before investigations wrap up.
Those decisions will involve balancing the interests of the public in getting information with the privacy of those involved, Case said
“I will tell you that we’re taking it very seriously, proactively putting these videos out so that we can educate the public, we can give the public the information,” he said. “We’re also trying to determine how we can put that information out so that we also protect those victims.”
The department will also continue to monitor how their internal systems can handle the cataloging of body camera footage, as officers continue to be trained and equipped with the cameras, Case said.