ANCHORAGE (KTUU) – Saturday evening March 24 saw two fatal shootings by law enforcement officers across Alaska, one by an Alaska State Trooper in the village of Nikolaevsk, the other by an Anchorage Police Department officer inside an East Anchorage trailer park; neither department uses body cameras, a tool that is increasingly employed by police across the country to document such incidents.

Renee Oistad, a public affairs spokesperson with APD, says the department has no updates on whether the technology will be adopted or how much it would cost to roll out the technology across the department. Instead, APD is focusing on developing its in-car camera systems.

Meanwhile, Jonathon Taylor, the communications director for the Department of Public Safety, says Alaska State Troopers won’t be adopting body cameras anytime soon. “Given fiscal constraints, our ongoing efforts to recruit and retain more Troopers and to fill existing vacancies, issuing body-worn cameras is not being considered at this time.”

While body cams have been used as evidence in police shootings in Sewardandin Fairbanks and also in allegations of police abuse involving officers in Palmer, there have been concerns the technology may lead to invasions of privacy.

Ethical issues
In early 2017, the American Civil Liberties Union updated its policy regarding body cameras saying the issue is a tough one: Advocates point to the potential for greater police oversight while critics say innocent people’s privacy is at risk.

The ACLU recommended changes be made to what kind of video is subject to public release claiming that the majority of body camera should not be made public in the interests of privacy. “The exception is where there is a strong public interest in that video that outweighs privacy concerns: where there is a use of force, or a complaint against an officer.”

Casey Reynolds, the communications director for the ACLU of Alaska, says one of the focuses of the new policy is to protect the privacy of people who are inadvertently caught up in body cam footage.

Like the debate about drone footage in Anchorage, the ACLU of Alaska is also insistent that body camera footage be kept for as short a time as possible, unless there are allegations of misconduct or depictions of violent interactions.

Anchorage body cameras
While APD doesn’t use body cams, other law enforcement departments and community groups within the city are currently using the technology.

The University of Alaska, Anchorage police use them on campus and Jason Cates, a supervisor with Anchorage Safety Patrol, says the department outfits its officers with GoPro cameras as they pick up inebriated people across the city. The footage is then stored within servers owned by the municipality of Anchorage and Cates says there is an awareness of privacy concerns – particularly with people’s medical conditions.

The Anchorage Downtown Partnership has also been using body cams for its safety ambassadors and maintenance workers for the past six months.

The organization’s executive director, Jamie Boring, says they’ve proven to be a useful documentation and training tool. The non-profit is able to record interactions with the public or review footage of areas around the city that need be repaired.

Boring says the organization doesn’t store the footage long-term, instead, handing over it to police when needed, or simply recording over it.

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