by Paul Bowers
The Charleston Police Department is currently testing out body cameras on 42 officers working in the Central Business District, on Daniel Island, and on traffic patrol.
In an effort to provide accountability during police-civilian interactions, the department recently purchased 140 VIEVU LE3 body cameras at a cost of $769 apiece using money from federal grants and the Charleston Police Fund. The department has also applied for a grant from the Department of Justice to purchase an additional 150 body cameras, which would be enough to outfit every patrol officer on the force.
"We started looking at body cameras two years ago because we knew it would become the wave of the future," Police Chief Greg Mullen said in a press release yesterday. "We realized that officers around the country would be issued body cameras just as they are issued a firearm."
According to the release, the purpose of the initial 42-officer trial run is "to test the equipment, training, and policy which have been presented to the small group of officers" before expanding the use of body cameras to other members of the police force. Mullen says the remainder of the cameras should be in use by the end of June.
Under the terms of a policy adopted in March, any officer who is equipped with a body camera must activate it "if there is probable cause or reasonable suspicion at the beginning of an encounter or incident." The camera must be allowed to keep recording until the incident ends or the officer leaves the scene. (Click here to read the full policy.)
Meanwhile in the Statehouse, lawmakers are hammering out the details of a bill, S. 47, that would require every law enforcement agency in the state to equip its officers with body cameras. The bill gained momentum after the April shooting death of Walter Scott, a case in which eyewitness video led to the arrest of a police officer on a murder charge.
The bill received unanimous approval from the House on May 13, but it has since hit a snag. The House amended the bill to say that body camera footage is not a public record and would not be available to the public under the terms of the S.C. Freedom of Information Act. The Senate sent back an amendment allowing FOIA requests in certain cases where "the recorded interaction involved the unlawful use of force by a law enforcement officer or resulted in a formal complaint for unlawful conduct by a law enforcement officer."
The House rejected the Senate amendment by a near-unanimous vote on May 26, and a joint conference committee of House and Senate members has been appointed to iron out the differences. This year's legislative session ends today, at which point all pending bills will be held over until January 2016.