Effort to get body cameras for APD requires funding, creation of new policies

Published: Nov. 9, 2020 at 8:07 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Anchorage Assembly Public Safety Committee is working on a proposal for voters that, if approved, would fund a massive technology overhaul for the Anchorage Police Department and include the addition of body cameras.

The effort is aimed at increasing police accountability and transparency, but some assembly members anticipate future discussions about how the cameras are used and under what circumstances the public has access to the video they record could be contentious.

“There are real thorny issues there, of privacy of victims, the rights of the accused and the rights of officers,” Assembly Member Forrest Dunbar said during a work session on Oct. 30. “And not to mention, you know, the press and people like that, they could do public records requests.”

APD Sgt. Jeremy Conkling, president of the Anchorage Police Department Employees Association, said its members welcome body cameras, but the union will want a seat at the table when it comes time to discuss policy.

“Our officers are in favor of body cameras,” said Conkling. “We want it to be, much like anything else that we do, we want it to be well thought out, we want to have these types of conversations with our elected officials, with our chain of command and with the public in advance of rolling this program out to ensure that, you know, to the extent possible, it meets the needs and sort of desires of everybody involved.”

Lack of funding has long been the primary issue cited by the Municipality of Anchorage as the reason Anchorage police officers are not equipped with body-worn cameras, but following demands from the community over the summer for increased accountability, former Mayor Ethan Berkowitz committed to working on a proposal to outfit the force with body cameras.

The pledge came during a time of nationwide protests and unrest following the death of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis.

Monday, Assembly Chair Felix Rivera said the effort will continue, despite a recent change in leadership.

“[Berkowitz] was responding both to the community and the assembly, you know. There were assembly members who were talking to the administration and were saying, ‘We need to figure this out. Can you put together a proposal?’ And so even though that particular mayor is no longer with us, I would say this assembly is very interested in this topic,” said Rivera.

A proposal to purchase body cameras for the department through a $1.8 million annual tax levy is under review by the Public Safety Committee.

The proposal includes a significant technology upgrade for APD. In addition to body cameras, the bond would fund a lease for digital evidence management, computer-aided dispatch and record-management systems, in-car cameras and other related systems.

APD Chief Justin Doll has said simply adding a new element of body-worn cameras to the department’s existing infrastructure will not work, and several systems already need to be replaced.

The leasing arrangement has an estimated annual price tag of $2.2 million, but taking into consideration the $360,000 APD currently pays for its computer-aided dispatch and record-management systems, the proposal requests $1.84 million.

Voter approval of the ballot proposition would result in an annual individual taxpayer cost of $5.32 per $100,000 of assessed taxable property value, outside of the city’s tax cap.

As for creating policy for new cameras, Rivera said it’s possible that the assembly might wait to see whether voters approve the funding to move forward, noting the competing interests of privacy and public access could be a point of contention.

“So we come back to that question after April and then have that very public debate and deliberation because there’s a lot of interesting points to discuss about policy around body cameras and some of the other issues,” he said.

Rivera said he believes the committee is on track to flesh out the proposal and submit an updated version to the Assembly by Dec. 8, so if approved, it can appear on the April ballot.

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