APD to propose giving body cams to all officers amid use of force discussion
The Anchorage Police Department is set to propose giving body cameras to all its officers and is interested in social workers taking the lead for responses to mental health crisis calls.
Members of the department spoke publicly on Tuesday about its use of force policies and how APD can improve its relationship with the community in the wake of national protests against police brutality, particularly against people of color.
“We have a very progressive mindset on the use of force,” said Chief Justin Doll. He explained that chokeholds, like the one used in Minneapolis in the death of George Floyd, are banned in Anchorage.
A warning is needed before an officer shoots their weapon, deadly force can only be used as a last resort, officers are required to de-escalate potentially violent situations, and there is a duty for officers to intervene if another officer is using force inappropriately, Doll said.
All incidents where force is used, or threatened, are investigated internally or independently by the Alaska Police Standards Council. Deputy Chief Ken McCoy repeatedly said that the process used is “robust.”
Some information in those investigations is not made public. The Alaska Supreme Court has ruled that officers’ personnel files are considered confidential under the Alaska Constitution.
“That is not something the police department could change all on our own,” Doll said.
The chief of police added that APD will now submit a proposal to the Anchorage Assembly that all its officers be fitted with body cameras. In the past, the expense of buying body cams and the cost of storing terabytes of data is said to have stopped them from being bought.
“We think it’s good for general accountability and transparency,” Doll said, before explaining those videos, and videos filmed by dashboard cameras, would likely not be made public during criminal investigations.
“Whenever there is a criminal case involved and that video footage is evidence, it makes it very difficult, or impossible, for us to release because we have to allow the people involved in the criminal case to have their due process that’s required by the law,” Doll said of releasing police video footage.
Another concrete change is that APD could begin scaling back its responses to behavioral health-related calls. Instead, social workers could take the lead if a 911 call is made for someone experiencing a mental health crisis.
Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz said a treatment center is in the works and would be funded by the sale of Municipal Light & Power to Chugach Electric Association, Inc.
Chief Doll, Deputy Chief McCoy and Mayor Berkowitz repeatedly said on Tuesday that the police department is listening to community concerns and trying to improve relations with Anchorage.
“We have to persevere because we really don't have a choice,” Berkowitz said of the need to make changes in policing.
Officers are said to undergo racial bias training continuously and the department wants to hire more officers from minority backgrounds.
“I think that the department should reflect the community so to the extent that we can attract qualified applicants from all the various groups that are represented in our community, we would love to do that,” Doll said
McCoy, an African American officer, said the nationwide Black Lives Matter protests saw him speak to family on the East Coast who are nervous about interacting with police.
“It’s just been a reminder for me the pain that a lot of communities of color feel and it’s a reminder that we can always be better,” McCoy said, before adding that he was appreciative of APD officers who “show up, day in and day out, with the only goal of making this community better.”