Editorials

EDITORIAL: Will Anchorage’s government ever stop dragging its feet on police body cameras?

It has now been more than a year since Anchorage residents opted to tax themselves an additional $1.8 million per year to fund body-worn camera systems for police. But the municipal government seems to have taken that mandate as a suggestion — and one it’s in no hurry to implement.

The saga of body camera implementation for Anchorage police is torturous. There have been statements of interest for seven years, followed by vague promises and questions about cost. There have been incidents and shootings — more than a few — where body cameras might have helped establish an independent factual record. When the public opted to not wait on police and municipal inaction by funding the camera system themselves, there were draft policies. There were listening sessions. There was hemming and hawing about how the cameras might raise privacy issues or endanger investigations — never mind that police departments across the U.S. have implemented the cameras for years and enacted policies regarding public access to the captured footage.

So where are we now? A holding pattern, apparently, as the police union says it hasn’t heard from municipal leadership on the issue in more than a month — and, as is no surprise at this point, is in no hurry to remind municipal lawyers and the mayor’s office that the public is waiting. A statement from the mayor’s office cited collective bargaining agreements as being a higher priority, as though it’s impossible for municipal attorneys to deal with issues unless they march through the door in an orderly, single-file line.

Neither APD nor the municipality have approached this issue with the urgency it deserves given voters’ strong approval of body cameras and the serious public interest in transparency measures for police. In March, Chief Michael Kerle said there was no timeline for their implementation, saying that even when officers do start wearing cameras, the rollout will be limited to a small group of officers — with, again, no timeline for when all the department’s officers will use the cameras, as the public expected when funding them and which the department’s camera policy promises will be the case.

Put simply, this is unacceptable. The public expects better from its police and from its municipal government. Anchorage residents deserve a date certain when body cameras will be implemented, and they deserve a strong public-access policy to the body camera footage, not the murky status quo under which the department demands hundreds of dollars to produce video records and sometimes rejects such public-records requests entirely.

In the absence of good, factual information, rumor and innuendo rush in to fill the vacuum. Anchorage police and municipal leaders should recognize that by continuing to put body cameras on the back burner, they are fueling doubt and suspicion about their motives for doing so. They should do an about-face and make implementing the cameras a priority, because the cameras are a priority for the public they serve — the public which voluntarily agreed to fund the program.

Anchorage Daily News editorial board

Editorial opinions are by the Anchorage Daily News editorial board, which welcomes responses from readers. Board members are ADN President Ryan Binkley, Publisher Andy Pennington and Opinion Editor Tom Hewitt. The board operates independently from the ADN newsroom. To submit a letter or longer commentary for consideration, email commentary@adn.com.

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