APD hosts community listening session on body camera policy
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Anchorage Police Department hosted a community listening session Wednesday to hear input from members of the community on the department’s draft body camera policy.
APD is in the process of adopting a body camera policy after voters approved an annual $1.84 million property tax increase in April to fund the purchase of body cameras as well a significant technology upgrade for the department.
Attendance was lower than expected at the event held in the auditorium of Bettye Davis East Anchorage High School on Wednesday evening, a venue with 693 seats. Just 19 people spoke publicly about the draft policy.
“I emphasize, it’s just a draft and it’s subject to change based on your input,” said Acting Chief Ken McCoy. “We intend to take your feedback and suggestions from tonight, review them, and if we can, incorporate them into the draft policy.”
Public comments included concerns about transparency and lack of clarity in the draft policy. Multiple speakers urged the department to adjust the policy to ensure the timely release of footage to the public after incidents involving police use of force.
“We recommend that in cases where a person is killed, shot by a firearm or seriously injured, the department expeditiously release the video, no later than five days,” said Michael Garvey, advocacy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska. “... The alternative is that APD is able to withhold critical footage from the public and only release footage that they like, or portions of footage. In this case, body cameras go from a tool for transparency and accountability to a tool for police propaganda.”
Community members also said the policy needs to clearly define when officers are required to turn on the cameras and keep them on.
“These cameras must be turned on anytime there is a law enforcement encounter. There should be no wiggle room,” said Celeste Hodge Growden, president and CEO of the Alaska Black Caucus.
Hodge Growden said there are some good things in the draft policy, but “the public interest is missing.” She said in addition to allowing the release of video to the public and requiring officers to turn their cameras on, the policy should also address how long the footage will be preserved.
Speakers also said they want to have more opportunities to weigh in on the policy going forward.
“Your message was clear to us,” McCoy said after the listening session. “So we’re going to get to work and we will be communicating more and providing more opportunities to continue this conversation.”
The event ended early, once there were no more members of the public wishing to be heard.
During an interview on Thursday, McCoy said he appreciated the community’s participation.
“I would have liked more attendance, but again, the people who did show up were very engaging and I felt it was a good representation of the community,” he said.
He said it’s clear the community views body cameras as a tool for to hold police accountable, and while he agrees, he also sees them as a tool to protect officers from false allegations.
“Transparency is a big piece of it, and, obviously there has to be some level of access to the video so we’re going to be looking very closely at how we can make it more accessible,” McCoy said.
He said the department plans to present a revised version of the draft policy to the Public Safety Advisory Commission later this month.
The listening session was streamed live on the department’s Facebook page. According to a spokesperson, the recorded video had at least 4,000 views by Thursday afternoon.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated with additional information.
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