ANCHORAGE—As then-Anchorage police Officer Anthony Rollins was sexually assaulting her that September morning in 2008, the 22-year-old woman desperately looked around the Mountain View police substation.
“I remember I was looking for cameras,” she tearfully testified on Feb. 2 during the rape trial. “I was really hoping there was a camera in there.”
Now that Rollins has been convicted of sexually assaulting five women in police substations and while on the job, the question is: Could police cameras have stopped him?
The Anchorage Police Department has submitted a request into the capital budget for $1.3 million for police cameras; dash-cams, in particular.
It's too early in the legislative session to see whether that request will be granted, but the issue of police cameras in general is gaining more traction at APD.
“We're having lots of internal discussion on this topic,” said APD Chief Mark Mew during a news conference Wednesday.
Right now, APD does not have cameras—in vehicles nor in substations.
“Funding is an issue,” Mew said.
Money is an issue for other police departments, as well, but in Mississippi, the Walls Police Department, which serves a population of 1,200, found a way to outfit all five of its officers with wearable two-inch cameras.
“The cost is like 10 dollars each,” said Officer Scott McCard, senior patrolman for Walls Police Department. “I've taped a DUI arrest and used it on a disturbance call, and all that within the last week.”
At 10 bucks apiece, McCard says, the device is affordable and invaluable.
“It helps to preserve our integrity,” McCard said. “It's a two-way sword. It keeps us on our toes to make sure we're aware that we're being filmed ourselves, as well as the public, and the situation we're in. They're much more effective than the standard video cams you see on the dash-mounted frames on police cars.”
VIEVU is one of a few businesses that build wearable video cameras exclusively for law enforcement agencies.
“Officers get sued a lot for their conduct, and it's generally a case that's not provable either way,” said Heidi Travero, VIEVU’s director of business development. “And I think that if the videos were present, then you'd have absolute determination immediately on whether or not an officer needs to be retrained or fired or if his conduct was perfectly professional.”
VIEVU does not make cameras for $10; the company’s cameras start at about $900.
“Funding is an issue, but it's not just a funding piece,” Mew said. “The substations themselves might not be that much. It's the policy issues, the legal issues, the infrastructure issues, downstream storage, search engines, chain of custody issues. The storage for video is huge.”
Mew said he eventually wants the department to go the way of wearable cameras.
APD union spokesperson Derek Hsieh says the devices will enhance both police and the public's safety.
“It's something the officers look forward to from a safety standpoint,” Hsieh said. “It was one of the things that was highlighted after (Officer Jason Allen) was shot. In light of what happened with the Rollins case, it's something the community looks forward to.”