Anchorage Police Department Chief Justin Doll says the department supports body cameras and are working on a proposal for their implementation but that current state law and policies for criminal investigations would keep their contents—as well as most investigations into officer conduct—confidential.
Doll made the comments during a news conference with Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz and Deputy Chief Kenneth McCoy about policing following several local demonstrations against police brutality in the wake of the killing of George Floyd.
“APD fully supports a body cam program,” he said. “We think it’s a good idea, we think it’s good for general accountability and transparency, but we also think it’s good because it typically shows that we’re doing things the way that we’re supposed to be doing them.”
APD officers currently have no body cameras and most but not all police cars in the city are equipped with dash cameras, he said. Doll said the cost to implement the cameras and the storage system for their footage could be a challenge for the department.
“One of the primary challenges for us has always been funding. They’re typically very expensive,” he said. “We’re developing a proposal now to share with the Assembly on what that would look like at APD. We’re totally interested in doing that. We’re totally happy to implement a body camera program at APD.”
Doll said every use of force by an officer is required to be reported and that every complaint about excessive force is taken seriously and investigated internally with serious cases elevated to criminal charges.
But when asked if those complaints or reports would be public for review, Doll said no and chalked it up to state law as well as a recent Alaska Supreme Court ruling that found disciplinary records are confidential under the State Personnel Act. Doll acknowledged that the law is outdated, especially for modern digital records, but stopped short of offering any advice for how it might be updated.
Body cameras were one of the key issues raised during Tuesday’s meeting as the public calls for greater accountability and transparency with the police, particularly when it comes to use of force. But it’s unlikely that the public or media would be able to see those recordings soon after an event, he said.
“Whenever there’s a criminal case involved and that video footage is evidence it makes it very difficult or impossible for us to release because we have to allow the people who are involved in the criminal case to have their due process that’s required by the law,” he said. “So, any additional review, that’s part of the public records updates that need to happen because public records laws were never really designed to take into consideration the massive amounts of digital evidence that a department of our size might be collecting.”
As for the investigations, Deputy Chief McCoy said the department has a “very robust internal investigations process” backed up with other opportunities for the public to lodge complaints.
“We have a very robust internal affairs investigative unit at APD and we take every complaint seriously and conduct a full investigation. However, we also work very closely with the Anchorage Community Police Relations Task Force and they’re able to take complaints from the public and work to review the actions in those cases and answer questions to the public and make recommendations to us that should be taken,” he said. “We’re always willing to discuss that process and if there’s a better way of doing things, we’re willing to have those conversations. However, we’re feeling really good about where we are with a very robust internal investigations process.”
Doll said that officers who violate the department’s policies can be reprimanded, fired or face criminal charges. However, it appears that most cases of officer misconduct short of criminal charges would not likely be made public under the State Personnel Act.
He also said that serious cases like the officer killing of 16-year-old Lufilufilimalelei “Daelyn” Polu earlier this year are forwarded to the state Office of Special Prosecutions, where the investigation would be handled by a third party. In that specific case, the Office of Special Prosecutions declined to file charges against the officer.
It’s a process that while the city says it’s robust, has left many, including Polu’s family, with unanswered questions about the events that ended with Polu’s death and unable to access much of the department’s evidence from that night.
“There’s a lot of questions and I just really need answers to them,” said Karen Mariko, Polu’s mother, during demonstrations last Friday. “I’m demanding, at this point, for evidence, all evidence pertaining to this incident, and it’s just very frustrating because they’re giving me the whole runaround.”
Mayor Berkowitz has tried to strike a sympathetic tone when it comes to the anti-police brutality protests but has also faced backlash for defending the Anchorage Police Department.
Speaking at the Friday rally immediately after Polu’s family spoke about police brutality against minorities, the mayor said “This police department is listening to what you have to say. This police department doesn’t do the things that are done in other places. But we can be better,”