New draft policy for Anchorage police body cameras criticized for lack of transparency

a window that says Anchorage Police Department Anchorage Alaska
An Anchorage Police Department Headquarter’s window looking out on to 4th Ave on May 7th, 2021. (Hannah Lies/Alaska Public Media)

Almost six months after Anchorage voters approved the purchase of body cameras for police officers, the Anchorage Police Department has released a new draft policy for how the cameras will be used. 

The cameras are paid for by a $1.8 million property tax increase

The original draft policy came out in June, but Anchorage Municipal Manager Amy Demboski said the city had concerns about parts of it. 

“The Municipality of Anchorage legal department has expressed concerns relating to privacy laws and the additional protections relating to privacy in Alaska,” Demboski said during an Assembly Public Safety Committee meeting conducted online on Wednesday.

Demboski said the new draft, released later that day, has been approved by the city’s legal department. She read some of the new language in the draft.

“Officers in uniform performing patrol or crime suppression duties shall always wear body-worn cameras while on duty,” Demboski said. “Officers shall record all calls for service when initiating an encounter with the public unless otherwise excepted under the policy, or it is unsafe to do so, impossible to do so or impractical to do so.” 

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The ACLU of Alaska has criticized the draft plan, saying it lacks transparency and accountability. In a statement, ACLU officials took issue with a lack of language ensuring the release of footage to the public involving shootings and other uses of deadly force by officers.

ACLU of Alaska Advocacy Director Michael Garvey said the original draft stated that officers who misuse the body cameras could be subject to discipline, but the new draft doesn’t mention that. 

“It’s certainly a suspect change to us, and we think that there is a high importance of making sure that when officers do misuse these cameras, they are subject to discipline in an appropriate manner,” Garvey said.

ACLU of Alaska officials also criticized a section of the policy that instructs police to turn off the cameras when discussing cases with other officers.

The police department is taking public comments on the draft policy until Nov. 6.

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Wesley is a reporter for Alaska Public Media, covering primarily city government and Anchorage life. He previously worked at Alaska Public Media as a web editor, producer and education reporter before a two-year stint in Kotzebue, AK as News Director for KOTZ-AM.

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