Troopers will get body cameras in 2023, while local police have worn cameras for years
The Alaska Department of Public Safety is sharing its new body-worn camera policy with the public and hopes to distribute body cameras to officers statewide by the end of the year. That technology will be new to officers in the peninsula’s unincorporated communities — though municipal departments on the central peninsula have been using the cameras for almost a decade.
Alaska State Troopers aren’t currently equipped with body cameras, which are a tool meant to increase the transparency of interactions between the police and the public. Although many officers currently have either dashboard cameras or audio recorders, the department has been pushing for the body cameras for years, according to troopers spokesperson Austin McDaniel.
He said a year ago, DPS requested money for the program from the Alaska legislature, and in July was granted more than $3.5 million for the project, in addition to $1 million in federal funding.
Since then, McDaniel said they’ve picked a model of camera and drafted a policy that will govern the program. Starting Feb. 8, DPS is inviting the public to submit comments on that policy before they roll out the program.
“That policy was based off of a lot of national best practices from associations like the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the U.S. Department of Justice, as well as reviewing similarly-situated agencies across the country and their body-worn camera policies,” McDaniel said.
According to the policy, the public will be able to ask for body camera footage from a case through a public records request once an investigation into that case is complete. The department may also release footage early for certain “critical incidents”.
Before every trooper in the state gets a camera, DPS is running a pilot program, which begins this spring and will run on the Kenai Peninsula, Mat-Su Valley and the Interior. These areas house the department’s training posts, and McDaniel said the hope is to be able to distribute the pilot cameras between new and seasoned officers.
“This is really going to help us to set up a successful full launch of the program later this year,” he said.
DPS will distribute about 30 cameras for the pilot program to officers currently equipped with dash cams, a requirement for setting up the camera.
Meanwhile on the central peninsula, local police departments have been using body cameras for years.
Lieutenant Ben Langham with the Kenai Police Department said his department adopted body cameras nine years ago, and issues them to every officer. He said the department’s experience has been positive: body cameras have helped the Kenai police provide evidence in court, ensure accountability among officers and investigate complaints.
Langham said there were no significant barriers to bringing body cameras to Kenai’s police. He said the city was supportive of the initiative, and although some officers were initially skeptical, there was no pushback.
The Soldotna Police Department also adopted body cameras quite some time ago, according to The Peninsula Clarion. The program rolled out in late 2015, and purchased 14 wearable cameras for officers. At the time, the department’s chief said he was hoping to be ahead of the curve on transparency.
Both KPD and SPD equipped officers with audio recorders and dash cameras before the body cameras.
McDaniel said once DPS has collected feedback from the pilot officers, and from the public, it hopes to distribute all of the body cameras statewide by the end of 2023.
“The Department of Public Safety views these as really useful tools in modern day policing,” he said. “We do feel that these are going to make sure we enhance and build on the public’s trust, and ensure that we’re as transparent with the public as we possibly can.”
Langham with KPD said he would encourage every department to get body cameras because of their benefits to evidence and accountability.