Legal action threatened over voter-approved body cams Anchorage police didn’t buy

Anchorage taxpayers footing $1.8M for body cams the city hasn’t purchased
16 months ago, voters agreed to pay $1.8M needed to buy body cameras for Anchorage police officers, though the city hasn’t purchased any and won't say why.
Published: Aug. 22, 2022 at 7:52 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Alaska Black Caucus and other civil rights groups are threatening legal action against the Anchorage Police Department for not buying body cameras, even though residents voted to pay for them more than a year ago.

Voters wanted police to begin wearing these cameras to protect both officers and citizens, but that’s not happening and it seems no one knows when the cameras will show up.

Controversy has always surrounded whether officers should wear body cameras, but last year voters approved a measure to ensure cameras are issued to all city police. Anchorage voters agreed to a rise in property taxes to raise the monies needed to make the purchase. That deal was initiated by the previous mayor’s administration.

Now, 16 months later, there are still no cameras and no definitive word on when they’ll arrive. Some residents say that the administration was more engaged with organizations that worked with the community to get things done.

“We had a good dialogue going and then radio silence, I don’t know, it’s just, just frustrating to get answers now,” said Justice Committee co-chair of the Alaska Black Caucus Rick Curtner.

Last week, Curtner helped write a letter to the Mayor and police chief entitled “Where are the body cameras that Anchorage residents paid $1.8 million for?”

The letter was signed NAACP Anchorage Branch President Kevin McGee, ACLU of Alaska Executive Director Mara Kimmel, Northern Justice Project’s James Davis and the Alaska Balck Caucus President, Celeste Hodge Growden.

“APD told the community that it would have body cameras by the end of 2021,” the letter states. “The municipality and the APD are effectively ignoring the will of the voters... We cannot wait for another death to spur Anchorage into action.”

The letter cites that in 2016, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported 80% of large police departments in the U.S. had already obtained body-worn cameras. The civil rights groups are demanding that the city take action by Sept. 15, and threatened to issue their own legal response if no action is taken.

“We’ve been talking about ‘they’re just dragging their feet, we need to sue,’” Curtner said. “I mean, you know, how many times when you ask you don’t get an answer? When a judge asks, we get an answer.”

Anchorage Police Department Employees Association President Jeremy Conkling says officers should be allowed to view body cam footage when writing reports or preparing for trial. He says the city disagrees. That’s just one of the issues Conkling says he’s battling with the current administration.

“There is definitely less communication that comes out of city hall than there was in previous experience,” Conkling said.

Mayor Dave Bronson’s spokesman said the police department would provide additional information — but the APD spokesperson said the department had no update on when the policy would be finalized, nor any deadline for finishing policy negotiations — only that talks with the union would continue.

Meanwhile, the Alaska State Troopers are moving forward with their body cameras after recently securing funding. The commissioner says he plans to begin issuing cameras to troopers by early next year.