Anchorage Safety Patrol officers, tasked with picking up inebriated people from city streets, will soon be equipped with on-body video cameras.
Mark Lessard, emergency preparedness program manager for the Anchorage Department of Health and Human Services, said the health department recently ordered five body cameras at the request of the contractor that operates the Anchorage Safety Patrol van service and Anchorage Safety Center on Third Avenue.
Each three-inch camera cost $350, paid out of the health department's operating budget. The devices can be clipped to clothing or worn with a harness, Lessard said.
The contractor, Goldbelt Security LLC, is still figuring out how to use the cameras and is working on a set of policies and procedures, Lessard said. He did not have an exact deployment timeline. In September, Goldbelt Security formally took on the nearly $2 million annual contract with the city, which involves running a 24-hour van service as well as the Safety Center, where people are held until they sober up.
Lessard said no specific incident prompted the decision to use the cameras. He called the request from Goldbelt Security "purely precautionary."
"Essentially it's the same theory as to why we have security cameras in facilities," Lessard said. "It's designed to protect both staff and clients from allegations. It becomes part of the documentation."
He added that there's generally potential for incidents within the safety patrol -- such as an inebriated person becoming violent or a medical emergency. In the past, extra video documentation may have been helpful, he said.
The topic of body cameras, more specifically for law enforcement agencies, has cropped up in news headlines in recent months. This week, the mayor of Los Angeles announced a plan to equip 7,000 police officers with body cameras by 2015 and the Seattle Police Department said it was about to start testing body cameras on a dozen officers.
That list of police agencies does not yet include the Anchorage Police Department, though the department is almost done installing a camera surveillance system inside its patrol cars. Police Chief Mark Mew said body cameras could be the next step, depending on funding.
Of the 65 patrol cars being outfitted with cameras, about a dozen are already out recording, Mew said recently. Each of those cars has one camera on the dashboard looking forward and another aimed back into the passenger compartment.
Mew said APD has been exploring the use of body cameras since 2010. But the department had been looking for a company that could supply both in-car cameras and officer body cameras, without success, Mew said.
Between 2010 and 2012, APD received about $3.8 million in state funding for the in-car camera project. Mew said he expects to have some leftover funds once the installation is complete and those funds could go toward body cameras.
Of course, that doesn't mean Anchorage police would begin using body cameras overnight. It will likely be at least a few more years before policies and guidelines are hammered out, based on an evolving pool of research being conducted by police departments in other states, said Jennifer Castro, communications director for APD.