The Alaska Black Caucus filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the Municipality of Anchorage over repeated delays in implementing a body-worn camera policy by the Anchorage Police Department.
The organization, a nonpartisan group advocating for the rights of Black Alaskans, asserts the municipality and the police department “have collectively thwarted the will of the voters,” who in April 2021 passed a proposition that funded body cameras for the police department through a $1.8 million tax increase.
In a lawsuit filed in Anchorage Superior Court, the group, represented by attorneys from the Northern Justice Project, asked for a judge to declare that the municipality “must comply with the will of the voters” and issue an injunction requiring the municipality to begin equipping APD with body cameras. The caucus asked the court to appoint a special master to oversee the body camera policy implementation if the court determines that the police department and municipality are unable to quickly implement the policy without outside assistance.
“The Alaska Black Caucus has decided that enough is enough. Body cameras protect not only Black people, they protect all people in Anchorage, including police officers,” Celeste Hodge Growden, president of the Alaska Black Caucus, said in a statement.
Hans Rodvik, a spokesman for Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson, declined in an email to comment on the litigation, but said Bronson supports the use of body cameras by the police department.
“The Mayor supports having APD Officers wear body-worn cameras, and respects the will of the voters who approved funding for information technology systems, including body-worn cameras. Body-worn cameras are good public policy and will enhance transparency for both the public and APD. The Administration is committed to implementing this technology as expeditiously as possible,” Rodvik said in an email.
The police department said Wednesday afternoon that it would host a news conference about the body camera policy Thursday morning.
The department originally planned to launch its body camera technology by the end of 2021. But the rollout has been delayed by numerous issues, including disagreement between the department and the union representing the police officers on aspects of the policy. Officials announced last fall that the department and the Anchorage Police Department Employees Association would enter arbitration to resolve the dispute. The expected timeline was for a decision to be reached by fall.
But earlier this month, Darrel Evans, the union president, said both sides agreed to postpone the arbitration in hopes of resolving the policy disputes themselves without the involvement of a third party. That move cast further doubt on the implementation timeline for the policy.
Rich Curtner, co-chair of the Alaska Black Caucus Justice Committee, said a meeting of the Public Safety Committee in early April, where police officials first indicated arbitration had been delayed, was “the straw that broke the camel’s back,” leading the caucus to pursue legal action in an effort to expedite the process after months of urging the municipality to implement the policy through non-legal means.
“That was too far. That was too much,” Curtner said.
In its lawsuit, the Alaska Black Caucus says that the municipality and APD’s “excuses” for failing to implement a body-camera policy “do not pass the straight-faced test and are contradicted by the actual facts which all Alaskans are aware of.”
Thousands of police departments nationwide have already adopted body-camera policies, as have some departments in Alaska.
According to the suit, the Alaska Black Caucus officially petitioned APD to adopt a policy in February “to help speed the process along.” Municipal code dictates that the municipality “shall initiate rule making procedures or notify the petitioner in writing as to its reasons for not doing so” within 30 days of receiving the petition. However, the municipality has neither initiated rule making procedures nor notified the caucus of its reasons for not doing so.
“In other words, the MOA is acting as if the law does not apply to it,” the suit says, adding that the municipality and police department are “thwarting the process by proffering one excuse after another, with no end in sight.”