One in Four Police Officers Already Wearing Body Cameras
One in four Anchorage police officers are already wearing body cameras, about 100 of the department’s 350 officers. They are being fitted with an average of four BWCs (body worn cameras) a day, so they will be fully equipped by around January or February 2024.
More than three weeks after the Anchorage Police Department’s last announcement, and more than two years after taxpayers approved a $1.6 million tax increase to pay for them, body-worn cameras (BWCs) are starting to become a reality.
As of mid-November, 54 officers had been trained and equipped with the devices, said Assistant Chief Sean Case. That’s less than a quarter of the officers who patrol the city. The police department acknowledges that full implementation will take “several months.”
About four a day can be set up. In other words, it will take about three months to equip Anchorage’s 350 police officers if there are no further delays.
In early December, Sol de Medianoche requested more information from police chief Michael Kerle. On his behalf, Gia Currier, Kerle’s executive assistant, referred us to the Community Relations Unit, and Renee Oistad, a specialist in that unit, referred us to the department’s official records.
The history of BWCs dates to the murder of George Floyd in 2020 and the ensuing protests demanding that police officers be held accountable for their actions. In May 2021, Anchorage taxpayers approved a $1.6 million tax to equip the police. The process was delayed, until the Alaska Black Caucus filed a lawsuit.
Now, Anchorage police officers will have to turn on their cameras every time they interact with someone. Any member of the public will be able to access the footage through an official request once the police have completed their investigation into the footage.
Case said at the time that the videos would be available to the public prosecutor, defense lawyers and victims of a crime, even before the case was closed. There will be exceptions if there is a critical incident involving police officers, such as a shooting, a high-profile hostage situation, or a mass casualty event.
Recently, a police officer shot a suspect who (according to the police version) had pointed a pepper spray gun at the officer. The police department asserted that no one was injured and that the officer who shot was not yet equipped with a body worn camera. When an officer shoots, Chief Kerle can release images before the investigation is complete.
All decisions must balance the public’s right to know and the privacy of those involved.
The department will continue to monitor how its internal systems can handle image cataloguing as officers continue to be trained and equipped.
On October 3, last year, one of the most recent police statements read: “We would like to thank the community for their patience as we work to equip our officers with body cameras and replace our outdated (in-car video) system.”