COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - The South Carolina Legislative Black Caucus wants to pass bills requiring all law enforcement officers in the state to wear body cameras, despite the fact some Caucus members have said the bills need a lot of work.
The Black Caucus will hold a Tuesday morning press conference to encourage moving the bills to the House and Senate floors for debate. The push to revive the bills comes in the wake of the shooting death of 50-year-old Walter Scott, an unarmed black man at the hands of a North Charleston police officer.
Cell phone video, turned over to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division last week, appears to show Officer Michael Slager shooting Scott in the back as he ran away. Slager has since been fired from the North Charleston Police Department and charged with murder. Many legislators have said the shooting wouldn't have happened if Officer Slager was wearing a body camera.
There are currently two body worn camera bills in the state House and Senate, each requiring every law enforcement officer in the state to wear and operate a body camera at all times while on duty. The Senate version of the bill was brought up in two separate committee meetings, and lawmakers, law enforcement, and civil rights groups expressed their concern about the way the bill was written.
"The general language to start can be improved on, there can be exceptions and conditions," said Victoria Middleton, a local representative of the American Civil Liberties Union. "Especially if they're entering into a private home, a domestic situation. If the individual says 'No, I'd prefer not to be,' say they're a rape victim or victim of domestic violence, can request it be turned off. That protects everybody."
Middleton and others point out the way the bills are currently written, all officers would have to record every encounter they have during their time on duty.
"That's why we have the amendment process," State Sen. Gerald Malloy said. "We've got 46 senators and a 124 House members that we can bring those issues to the table. There will be other issues, like a desk officer not needing to have one, or a narcotic agent not needing to have one."
Under the bills' language, undercover officers would have to record at all times as well, and all video would be a matter of public record.
"You may be in a person's house, and that video unknowingly captures the fact that person has two big screen TVs and that's published," Orangeburg Sen. Brad Hutto said after one committee meeting.
State Sen. Marlon Kimpson, who represents North Charleston, pointed out after one committee meeting, the body cameras bill would most likely need more time than this legislative session allowed to work out all the kinks and concerns. Kimpson is now one of the legislators championing the idea of bringing the bill back to life.
Another big issue, aside from privacy, is the sheer cost of implementing body cameras for all departments.
A fiscal impact study by the state's Revenue and Fiscal Office says the body cameras bill would "significantly impact state expenditures." The report estimates in one year alone, it will cost $21.5 million to purchase the cameras, train officers, and store all the video recorded by the cameras.
"We're not talking about megabytes or gigabytes, but terabytes of data," said Braden Bunch with the Sumter County Sheriff's Office.
The majority of those costs would not be covered by the state. According to the RFA report, $14.4 million is required at the local level for just the first year of implementing body cameras.
A Senate subcommittee will also revisit the body cameras bill Wednesday morning, and could make a decision over whether or not the bill heads to the floor for debate.