Anchorage’s next police chief wants timelines for the release of body camera footage

A man in a blue suit stands outside a forest area.
Sean Chase, newly appointed chief of the Anchorage Police Department, stands outside Alaska Public Media in Anchorage on Wednesday, June 26, 2024. (Matt Faubion/Alaska Public Media)

Incoming Anchorage Mayor Suzanne LaFrance announced this week the appointment of Sean Case to be the next chief of police for Alaska’s largest city.

Case, currently a deputy chief, grew up in Anchorage and is a 23-year veteran of the force. On Monday, he’ll replace Bianca Cross, whom Mayor Dave Bronson appointed just two months ago before losing his reelection bid to LaFrance.

Case says his vision for the Anchorage Police Department differs from previous police chiefs in a few important ways.


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This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Sean Case: We can take advantage of opportunities to connect with our community. And I know when I say that to people, they’re like, “Well, what does that mean?” Well, this (interview) is that opportunity. You know, whether it starts with me, it’s communication with mainstream media, it’s the use of social media and it’s all the way down to the line level employees. We’re going to take care of the police business. If it’s an arrest that’s warranted, we’re going to make that arrest. But at the same time, you know, we’re never going to take someone’s dignity away.

And so that connection to the community, really, is to keep that in mind, that you are probably the only person that’s going to actually care about the victim or whoever is calling that day, that week, that month, maybe in the last several years. And so that always has to be the top priority, and everything else kind of, you know, flows from there. And it’s always about connecting with people. The job’s always people.

Casey Grove: So, of course, we’ve seen a kind of a string of officer-involved shootings here, just kind of in the early summer up to now. And, you know, there’s been some debate about how those recordings from the police officers’ body cameras should be released. And I think the current chief, at least for a few more days, has said she’s not going to release them until the investigation is complete. It sounds like you want to approach that differently.

SC: Correct. And again, it goes back to connecting. I’m a pretty simple guy. You know, how do you connect with the community? And the narrative, when we don’t know the narrative, just as human beings, we put an ending to the story, and, you know, there’s all sorts of things that influence that. If you don’t trust the police, you’re probably going to create a narrative of, probably, something bad happened. And likewise, if you really trust the police, your narrative that you kind of make up is going to be probably positive. And if we don’t provide some sort of information or context, then that narrative is left up to each person that’s, you know, kind of, perceiving the event.

And there are challenges with releasing videos. This is not as simple as an officer gets involved in a shooting today, and two days later we release the video. There are some complications that exist. And it’s very important to me during the investigative process, both the criminal and the administrative, that we get a statement from the officer, prior to them watching the video. I want to know what their perception was of the incident. I don’t want them to watch a video and then (regurgitate). I can watch the video. I know what happened in it. I want them to give context. And I want them to tell me what they remember, what they saw. And so that slows down the release process. That’s a really high priority to me, for many reasons.

But I think we all want to know why the officer made a decision. And we owe it to them as well. And anytime we have an officer-involved shooting, that has an impact on the community, it has an impact on the officer. It has an impact on the department. It obviously has an impact on the family of whoever lost their life. But the community, it has an impact on them. It creates anxiety. It creates fear. So we have to be mindful that if these officer-involved shootings happen. You know, (if) we released a video seven months later, like, that’s seven months of uncertainty. That’s seven months of a narrative, a conversation, that we can’t have until that video gets released. So we’ve drafted a policy. We’re having our legal team look at it right now so that we can move forward with something as quickly as possible. And so we should have something coming out.

CG: So I guess the city attorneys have to look at it. But are there specifics in that policy that you’re able to talk about? I mean, like timelines and things like that?

SC: I won’t specifically get into timelines. There is timelines in the policy. A couple of things that are important (with) timelines. If that timeline, for some reason is going to be violated, we’re going to have a reason that we can articulate to the public, “Hey, we’re going to violate this timeline, because, ‘fill in the blank.'” It’s got to be something where it’s not, “Hey, it’s under investigation.” What does that mean? Like? Does it mean, like, what’s happening? Is anyone doing the work? Because, you know, “So we have a key witness we’re looking for in this investigation, we haven’t been able to locate them, and once we find that key witness, we’re gonna release a video.” Like that, at least, it may not make everybody happy, but at least people are like, “OK, there’s a piece of this puzzle they need to get done.”

And then, you know, clearly addressing the right to privacy. You know, I have a very good relationship with the ACLU here in town. I love the work that they do. And that’s their mission, you know, they want to protect those civil rights. And we do have an explicit right to privacy in Alaska. And so this is a needle that has to be threaded, to make sure that we can provide the public with some answers to some questions as early as possible, while also understanding about the right to privacy. We’ve got criminal procedure and all this stuff that we don’t want to talk about because it’s confusing. So that’s kind of why I wanted to start this process as early as possible so that, you know, we’re not having this conversation three weeks into it, and people are going, “When are you going to answer this question?” So I think we’re going to move very swiftly on it.

CG: So, I mean, I kind of have to ask this question, because it seems like SWAT officers would be involved in situations, you know, that might lead to an officer-involved shooting, just by the nature of those situations. How is it that SWAT officers with the gear that they wear were not outfitted with body cameras?

SC: I don’t have a reasonable answer to that question. I can tell you they’re gonna have cameras July 1.

CG: The SWAT officers will?

SC: Yeah.

CG: Gotcha. OK, so you’ve spoken just here in the last couple of days about community policing, and here today. And I think, you know, a component of that is dealing with folks that are having mental health crises. Are there things that you want to see the APD doing differently to help those folks?

SC: So June marks the one-year mark that we hired five mental health clinicians, and we paired them with police officers, which we call a Mobile Intervention Team. And that is a huge step for law enforcement. There’s no department in the country that does it quite like the way we do it. And our approach from day one was bringing in clinicians. They had a wide range of experience they brought when we brought them in. So we had, you know, those that have worked in residential settings, those that have worked with juveniles, those who work with adults. And so they kind of had a very broad range of skills that they brought in.

And the idea from minute one was, let’s provide them a little bit of training on police stuff, so, you know, what’s happening, to pair them up with an officer that’s very interested. We did a selection processes for those officers. So this wasn’t some sort of, we grabbed a couple officers and stuck them with them this. They want to do this work. They’re paired with that same officer, so they’re establishing that relationship and that teamwork. And I wanted the clinicians to go out and do whatever they could these first several months, like you take the landscape in from a clinical perspective. I don’t want to, as the deputy chief at the time, tell them how to do their job.

And so it started with, “Hey, let’s take patrol calls from patrol so they can go to other calls for service.” And now we’ve started adding more on their plate. Right now, we’re doing a domestic violence project with them. So they are responding to victims involved in domestic violence and have been recontacting them multiple times after the incident. So it’s not just kind of this, “Hey, somebody threatened suicide, and so we’re going to take a clinician and put them out there.” This is how they interact with victims. Next, we’ll talk about how we can interact, use that clinical perspective, for offenders. Because, you know, if you have a domestic violence situation, or you have somebody committing a crime, you know, there may be help that a clinician can provide either that victim or that offender. So it really is expanding. I like to say that I could triple the size of my MIT team, and I’d still have work for them to do, because their influence on law enforcement is just tremendous. And we haven’t figured out exactly even the extent of the impact. We’re still using them. So I’m very proud of that unit.

CG: So, you know, something I’ve seen since Mayor LaFrance, incoming Mayor LaFrance, you know, announced that she wanted you to be the next police chief, is this, like, criticism that, at the same time as she made that announcement, she said she wants to deepen connections with the BIPOC community in Anchorage. And, you know, she, at the same time she’s picking you, you’re a white man, and not sticking with a Black woman, Bianca Cross, as the police chief. How do you feel about that? Have you seen that criticism? And what do you think about that?

SC: You know, all I will say on that front is, you know, our actions dictate kind of where we stand on it. And it’s one thing to give lip service to some of this stuff. I have a long history with some of the BIPOC organizations in Anchorage. It’s been very important before, for a long time, and in diversifying, hiring, and looking at the way we train and the way that we implement different procedures inside the police department, so that when we have a more diverse workforce, it’s not, you know, skewed towards a certain way.

Those type of cultural changes are challenging in law enforcement. I mean, anytime you want to want to kind of look at those types of issues anywhere you’re at, it’s challenging. So I’m gonna dodge a little bit of your question and just kind of give you, you know, the Sean case, you know, this is the history and the track record that I have. Expanding the employees within the Anchorage Police Department so that we have more members of the BIPOC community, as well as females in the department, is extremely important to me. You know, I was a part of promoting Chief Cross to lieutenant as well as captain. You know, she was an excellent detective when she was a detective, as well as captain of the Detective Division. She’s qualified, she’s skilled. There’s a reason why we promoted her. And I’ll continue to do those sorts of things with providing opportunities to people that traditionally haven’t had some of the similar opportunities we’ve seen.

CG: We keep hearing from folks, you know, shop owners, residents, Mayor Bronson, even, other folks, that, you know, they don’t want to criminalize homelessness. But there’s there’s, I think, a sentiment that they still want some of these low-level crimes investigated and dealt with. And, I mean, what do you think about that? And is there anything you want to say about APD’s role in that?

SC: We have a role in homelessness, and I think there’s been a narrative, you know, not just here, but around the country, where police departments like to say, “Homelessness is not a police problem.” And that’s true, like, it is not a sole police problem. But that also leads the police department to use that as an excuse to not engage at a level that they should be engaging in, in the homeless conversation.

So the two obvious things are criminal activity in and amongst the homeless community. That’s the police world. Victimization, our homeless population is way over-represented when it comes to victimization. That’s the police department world. But it goes beyond that. I already mentioned MIT. They have a role to play in this. They have something to offer. They can connect to resources. It’s beyond mental health. It’s also substance abuse and misuse. They have connections, they have resources they can use. We have clinicians that have expertise in that area as well. So they bring that resource to the table as well. I believe that the team throughout the entire municipality, not only with the departments that work within the municipality, but other resources that we have, nonprofits, shelters, those sorts of things, that we’re going to see a lot of working together.

To kind of go back to the actual hard part of your question, which is, now you have low-level crime that’s being committed. And low-level crime is committing thefts in businesses that make businesses crazy, right? It impacts their bottom line. It’s frustrating, you know, it’s causing businesses in the downtown areas of Anchorage to want to move and go someplace else, so that they’re not taking a loss. And that is a fine line. Because there are some folks that commit those crimes, the criminal justice system just simply is not the place for them. And there are some people that commit those crimes where the criminal justice system’s absolutely the best place for them. And unfortunately, that’s not a bright line.

That’s not something I can go tell an officer, “Hey, here’s exactly where the line is, and you put, you know, this group on one side and this group on the other side. It’s an easy decision.” You know, that takes education, experience, from our officers, from our clinicians, to really kind of evaluate. That doesn’t mean we’re gonna get it right every single time. But we’re also required as a police department to provide, you know, additional resources like more foot patrols, more contacts with businesses, and staffing impacts that, so that’s a challenge, But it’s still not an excuse. And I think the businesses respond a lot better if they have a constant, consistent officer or member of our professional staff that they can reach out to, when it’s not like, “I got to call 911 or 311 right now,” but like, “I’m having some issues with, you know, the homeless community and around my business and my home.” So those are the things we’re gonna be working towards.

CG: What about the big stuff? I mean, you know, homicides, sexual assaults. How do you think your investigators are doing on those things? Are there things that you might want to do to improve, I don’t know, I think you call it like “clearance rates” right?

SC: Yeah.

CG: What about that?

SC: You know, Alaska is has always, and Anchorage, has always had its challenges with violent crime, and we’re consistently, per capita, in the top single digits in the country. And so that’s always concerning. There’s a couple of crimes that really pull our numbers down, so to speak, or up, depending on which way you look at it.

You know, our homicide detectives and our homicide team are outstanding. Same thing with our sexual assault response. You know, we we refer to it as “the gold standard.” It is, you know, we consistently maintain, looking around the country, to make sure that we are not missing some of the things. Everyone gets, you know, detectives and resources and forensic nurses. I mean, we have a multidisciplinary center approach. So it’s a great response. You know, where we can improve in sexual assault is, you know, we’re number one in the country year after year, and yet, when was the last time you saw the Anchorage Police Department talking about sexual assault? And now there’s reasons for that. We don’t want to double-victimize, you know, a victim, and it’s sensitive information. But I think even doing things like letting the public know, another arrest, another indictment, another conviction. We don’t have to use names. You know, we don’t have to put the victim in a bad place. But it’s just (getting) those types of pieces of information out to the public, it’s important

a portrait of a man outside

Casey Grove is host of Alaska News Nightly, a general assignment reporter and an editor at Alaska Public Media. Reach him Read more about Caseyhere

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