The Anchorage Police Department has been taking the public for a ride, and we will not sit silently in the backseat any more. It has been more than two and a half years since Anchorage residents voted for body-worn cameras. Not only is the implementation long overdue, but the process continues to lack the transparency that the public deserves and demands.
The Anchorage Assembly’s Public Safety Committee meets monthly. It appears that attending these meetings is the only way for the public to get information from APD. This has proven to be problematic. For example, the Aug. 2 meeting was scheduled and community members showed up in person and by phone. But on this date, the conference room at City Hall was found to be locked, and the meeting was rescheduled to the following week with no public notice given.
APD has continued to blame the implementation delay on a policy dispute between APD and the Anchorage Police Department Employees Association (APDEA), the police labor union. But when the Alaska Black Caucus sued the city of Anchorage over the failure to implement body-worn cameras on April 19, the very next day APD announced that it would move forward with implementation. Why did it take the threat of a lawsuit for this progress to happen?
The intent of body-worn cameras is to increase transparency and accountability between APD and the public. But the final policy, as written by APD and the administration, gives only the chief of police the authority to decide if camera footage from officer-involved shootings and critical incidents will ever be released to the public. This is the opposite of what voters expected and advocates have spoken out specifically against this part of the policy, but APD has made no changes.
In July, Assembly members planned to introduce an ordinance to require a better policy for the automatic release of footage. But the introduction of the ordinance was indefinitely postponed at an Aug. 8 Anchorage Assembly meeting after ordinance sponsors met with APDEA. This is the second time APDEA has interfered with a body-worn camera policy that would have reflected the transparency that voters have in mind.
Assemblymember Meg Zaletel also mentioned at this meeting that the administration has been “gutting” the Anchorage Public Safety Advisory Commission (APSAC), a body that is meant to represent the community but is instead “all former law enforcement.” APSAC is supposed to be a mechanism that allows our community to have a say in APD’s policies and procedures, according to a resolution from 2020. The gutting by the administration has ensured that APSAC is no longer effective.
Anchorage residents voted to fund body-worn cameras in April 2021, and we were assured by the APD that officers would be equipped with these cameras by the end of the same year. However, during a Public Safety Committee Meeting on Aug. 9, APD’s Chief Kerle announced that the full deployment of cameras would not take place until 2024. This means an alarming delay of more than two and a half years since the public voted for this initiative.
The need for transparency in our law enforcement operations is immediate and pressing. We urge you to join us in voicing your concerns at the next Public Safety Committee meeting, scheduled for the first Wednesday of every month from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. You can attend the meeting in person at City Hall, 632 W. Sixth Ave., Conference Room 155, or over the phone at 907-273-5190, with participant code 721227#. Let’s stand together to demand the transparency we voted for.
Leroy Williams is an Anchorage resident, homeowner, and taxpayer.
Rich Curtner is co-chair of the Justice Committee of the Alaska Black Caucus.
Helenmarie Matesi is a member of the Greater Fairbanks Branch of the NAACP.
Kunaan Julie Smyth, born and raised in Fairbanks, is a single parent trying to make the community a better place for her children.
Mercedes Arciniega is a lifelong Anchorage resident focused on community building, space activation and social justice advocacy.
Erin Jackson-Hill is an advocate for racial, economic and social justice, as well as the executive director of Alaskans Take a Stand.
Emily Kloc is an Anchorage resident and coordinator for the Alaska Coalition for Justice.
All of this commentary’s authors are members of the Alaska Coalition for Justice, a network of organizations working to transform Alaska’s public safety system by seeking accountability, ending racial and systemic injustice, and eradicating harm from the criminal justice and policing systems.
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