Alaska Black Caucus and Other Groups Threaten Lawsuit Over ODA’s Lack of Body Cameras

Downtown headquarters of the Anchorage Police Department. (Hannah Lies/Alaska Public Media)

The Alaska Black Caucus and other rights groups say they are considering legal action against the Anchorage Police Department which still does not have body cameras, more than 16 months after voters claimed approved their purchase.

The groups decried the lack of body cameras on officers — and the lack of a policy on body cameras — in a letter they sent Monday to Police Chief Michael Kerle, Mayor Dave Bronson and the president of Anchorage Assembly, Suzanne LaFrance.

“We cannot wait for another death to spur Anchorage to action,” the letter said.

Rich Curtner of the Alaska Black Caucus said it appears work on the body camera policy has slowed in recent months. When voters approved the cameras last April, he said, then-leader Ken McCoy had held several community meetings on the policy and progress was being made quickly.

“And so we were really on the move and then all of a sudden Chief McCoy left and we’ve stalled ever since,” Curtner said. “We’ve made progress, but it hasn’t been very transparent – what progress is – which is unfortunate.”

Kerle took over as police chief in February, replacing McCoy who announced his resignation suddenly in early December.

In the letter, the advocates asked for a firm timeline for when officials expect the body-worn camera policy to be implemented. Curtner said the groups are considering legal action if a schedule isn’t presented by mid-September.

“A lot of times you can ask and you might not get an answer,” Curtner said. “But often when a judge asks someone ‘What’s going on? you get a response. The judge has much more power than us.

He said he also hopes that once the policy is finalized, it will have a clear path for public access to camera footage, beyond the sometimes lengthy process of requesting public records. In the letter, the lawyers pointed to a Justice Department statistic that more than 80% of police departments nationwide already have body cameras on officers.

“Anchorage and ODA are way behind the times,” the letter says.

Jeremy Conkling is the leader of the Anchorage police union, APDEA. He said there had been two negotiating sessions between the union, the police department and the Bronson administration over the policy. A big sticking point for the union, he said, is allowing officers to review footage.

“Before giving a statement, before writing police reports, before going to court to testify as a witness,” Conkling said. “So that what the officer reports next is the most accurate and complete representation of what he saw, perceived and heard on this call.”

Conkling said the union is in favor of body cameras, and while he’s frustrated with the length of the process, he would like the policy to be thorough.

A spokeswoman for the Anchorage Police Department said she did not have a timeline for implementing body cameras and declined to comment on the policy.

Conkling said the police union, city officials and the police department are expected to begin a third round of bargaining on Wednesday.

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