Troopers release body camera draft policy

Public comment on draft policy open until March
Troopers release body camera draft policy
Published: Feb. 1, 2023 at 5:42 PM AKST|Updated: Feb. 1, 2023 at 7:41 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Alaska State Troopers released a draft policy for their body-worn cameras, which will be distributed in a pilot project starting this spring.

According to a press release, troopers received funding for the cameras last July, purchased the cameras in November, and are beginning to put the mobile audio and video recording (MAVR) systems into use this year.

“This is something that DPS wants to bring to the people that we serve within our areas of responsibility,” Department of Public Safety Deputy Commissioner Bryan Barlow said. “We feel that it enhances public trust — something that we take very seriously — it helps protect officers that are out there, it leads to higher quality investigations. There are several positive reasons to do this and all of which have led to us to actively pursue this.”

The draft copy of protocols is intended to generate public feedback, and Alaskans are encouraged by the Department of Public Safety to email their feedback or offer their comments in the mail.

Troopers wrote that the policy is based on guidelines provided by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the U.S. Department of Justice and other law enforcement agencies.

“We’re doing this by our own action, we’re serious about it because we’re serious about the quality of service we provide to the public,” Barlow said. “We are moving forward with vigor, in a robust manner to get this implemented within our operations. Again, we’ve accomplished a lot, our planning team has accomplished a lot over the last year in terms of policy development, obtaining funding, selecting a product and coming up with an implementation program.”

According to troopers, $3.58 million in state funding was provided in July of 2022, and an additional $938,000 was awarded by the federal government. In November of 2022, the department purchased 600 Motorola V300 body cameras for nearly $3 million that will be distributed to Alaska State Troopers, Alaska Wildlife Troopers, Court Service Officers, Village Public Safety Officers and commissioned officers of the State Fire Marshal’s Office. Department of Public Safety Communications Director Austin McDaniel said that 410 cameras are currently budgeted to go out to troopers later this year.

Alaska State Troopers will wear Motorola V300 body cameras beginning this year.
Alaska State Troopers will wear Motorola V300 body cameras beginning this year.(Jeremy Kashatok/KTUU)

“While on duty, officers shall make every effort to record with MAVR devices their interactions with the public during traffic enforcement, citizen complaints arrests, situations that hte officer believes would generate an incident in (Alaska Records Management System), or other situations where the officer believes it would be beneficial to have a digital recording,” the policy said. “Officers shall begin recording as soon as practical during a given situation and continue to record until the completion of the event, to include the recording of statements. Activating recording prior to contacting the public is recommended.”

McDaniel said that troopers sought to be proactive in providing footage of critical incidents to the public in a timely manner.

“We do recognize that the public does want its law enforcement officers to be transparent when it comes to the use of force situations when it comes to in-custody deaths. So that’s why we did call out here that we are interested in releasing body cam footage dashcam footage associated with in-custody deaths once those primary interviews have been conducted,” McDaniel said. “Generally, though, the way that Alaska’s public records laws are written, it does protect any type of evidence from being released to the public until that case works its way through the criminal justice system. Because ultimately, we have to protect the rights of a defendant to have a fair trial.”

Troopers wrote in a separate post on their website that the pilot program will begin this spring where 30 cameras will be provided in “urban and rural Alaska” to troopers on the Kenai Peninsula, Matanuska-Susitna Borough and the Interior that already have wireless dashboard cameras in their trooper patrol vehicles. Troopers wrote that the majority of body cameras would be issued to remaining officers “later in 2023.”

In stark contrast to the trooper timeline that saw just over one year between fund appropriation to when the cameras are put in use, it has been nearly two years since Anchorage voters approved body-worn cameras for Anchorage Police officers.

“That is the kind of timeline you’ll see across the country when police departments start having body cameras. This is the outlier for Anchorage Police Department, it’s been almost two years now,” Alaska Black Caucus Justice Committee Co-chair Rich Curtner said. ”I don’t know what this timeline is about, it’s been a delayed process, arbitration now won’t start till April and they are saying that they are just now contacting vendors and they’re going to not have body cameras possibly on the street until the end of the year and that is not a timeline I’ve seen anywhere else. It just seems like it’s just delay, delay, delay.”

Voters approved a property tax levy in April of 2021 to fund body-worn cameras. The debate over whether officers should be able to review their own footage has gone into arbitration between the Anchorage Police Department and the Anchorage Police Department Employees Association after a draft policy was released in October of 2021.

McDaniel said that troopers specifically requested the cameras from the Alaska Legislature in 2022.

“We asked for these because we think that they’re valuable tools and modern-day policing,” McDaniel said. “They funded us in July of 2022 and here we are in February, you know, not even a year later, with our policy, kind of in our final draft format for public feedback. We’re going to take that public feedback, and then work to get the policy trained and begin getting cameras out to people with that happening before one year has occurred.”

Troopers wrote that they would keep the footage on hand for between 26 months and 99 years, depending on the case, and that they can proactively release footage after officer-involved shootings. The public can request copies of body-worn camera footage, but none will be distributed in cases that are still in the court system.

“Generally, body-worn camera video footage will not be shared with non-criminal justice government agencies until any criminal investigations are completed and court cases are closed and the recording would be accessible to the public via the Alaska Public Records Act,” the policy said.

Offices may turn their recordings off when they feel it is necessary. The draft policy provides specific examples of conversations with a District Attorney, talking to another trooper or discussing an incident with a victim who will only speak to troopers without being recorded of instances when officers may feel “it is necessary to stop recording.”

However, officers can also be punished for not recording when they should have been.

“A technical malfunction is not grounds for corrective or disciplinary actions. If, however, a supervisor finds a pattern of an officer failing to make recordings as specified above, that may result in additional training, corrective action or discipline,” the policy said.

Comments on the policy can be mailed to the Alaska Department of Public Safety at 5700 East Tudor Road Anchorage, AK 99507 with ATTN: BWC Comments.

On Feb. 2, Alaska’s News Source will report on the ongoing effort to equip Anchorage police with body-worn cameras.