Anchorage police chief moves forward with body cameras, doesn’t commit to timeline
Chief expresses frustration in getting body cams on streets during news conference
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Anchorage Police Chief Michael Kerle released a new draft policy regarding body-worn cameras for officers at a press conference on Thursday at police headquarters.
Kerle conceded the policy remains subject to change depending on arbitration with the police union. That arbitration was recently delayed until the fall.
“Let’s say I was frustrated, and that’s when I looked for an alternative avenue and luckily the city legal agrees that we can push forward,” Kerle said.
It comes one day after the Alaska Black Caucus filed a lawsuit against the city attempting to force a decision to be made on the project sooner. Chief Kerle says he had planned to hold a news conference before learning of the suit.
Kerle would not discuss the specific issues that led to the delay in the scheduled arbitration. He released what’s called a “living policy” for the use of the cameras, one which is subject to change, pending arbitration with the police union.
“Our policies are all living documents, and once — if the arbitrator comes back and says, ‘We need to change this,’ then it’s easy,” Kerle said. “We’re going to change the policy.”
Kerle declined to predict when body cameras might be seen on Anchorage police officers but said the process is close to completion.
“We have made a recommendation for the vendor and it’s coming,” he said.
Kerle said his department first needed to upgrade its technology before moving forward with purchasing the cameras.
“We know we have the money this year for a digital evidence management system,” said Kerle. “We’re going to have a complete system, which includes body-worn cameras.”
One of the most significant changes from the earlier draft of the body-worn camera policy is an attempt to clarify how and when police videos will be released to the public and the news media.
A new section spells out that “body-worn cameras are public records ... and shall be released using the statutory and regulatory guidelines of Anchorage Municipal Code.”
But it also states that recordings that are associated with active criminal, civil, or administrative court proceedings should not be released until the proceedings are closed. Deputy Chief Sean Case said that provision could mean videos would not be seen for some time.
”The first thing is to remember that we have the explicit right to privacy in our state constitution,” Case said. “That’s unusual. Most states don’t have that.
“It could be an extended length of time. But that third paragraph gives the chief the ability to kind of circumvent that system in incidents that are of public interest.”
Despite the uncertainty in the policy’s language, there’s one thing the chief says he wants the public to know.
“We do want body-worn cameras and we will see them shortly,” Kerle said.
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