South Carolina's body camera bill is now law

Published: Jun. 10, 2015 at 8:54 PM EDT|Updated: May. 12, 2016 at 1:21 PM EDT
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NORTH CHARLESTON, SC (WIS) - Gov. Nikki Haley signed into law a bill in North Charleston on Wednesday, requiring law enforcement wear body cameras. The bill's passage comes after the fatal shooting of Walter Scott by a police officer earlier this year.

The law requires police agencies to create a policy for who will wear the cameras, when they should and should not be recording, and how video from the cameras is stored.

"Today people will be safer than they were yesterday and everyday it is going to get better," Haley said. "This is going to strengthen the people of South Carolina. This is going to strengthen law enforcement, and this is going to make sure Walter Scott did not die without us realizing that we have a problem."

The bill might be seen as more evidence this state has been remarkably quick to take action to improve police work and prevent problems like the one in Ferguson. But our new law is just the first step and there are more to go before body cameras become common.

That's because the law is a mandate to state and local law enforcement, but for now, not a state-funded mandate. In other words, for most agencies, the money isn't there unless they can get it from local government.

Some departments including Kershaw County and Columbia police have been experimenting with cameras. CPD had about a dozen deployed on officers in the entertainment districts late last summer. Richland County wants them but has yet to secure the $1.2 million it will take to buy them and get set up.

Experts say many other departments are in the same boat until lawmakers return to Columbia and come up with the cash, estimated at almost $23 million over the first two years.

"It requires departments to implement body cameras to use and implement body cameras, but it also only requires that when they get state funding to do that," University of South Carolina law professor Seth Stoughton said. "Now the bill that we have right now does not provide for funding. That, I expect we'll see next year as we start to have the approval process."

Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said he will be applying for camera funding once it becomes available.

The law does set up a funding pool within the Department of Public Safety.

But agencies still have to come up with their own rules for camera usage, get them approved by the state Law Enforcement Training Council after the council decides on a set of guidelines, and then apply for money which again, has yet to be approved by the General Assembly.

On top of that, body camera footage is not subject to public record requests, but can be obtained by attorneys, family members, or subjects of the recording through court order. Haley says that won't hinder transparency.

"They understand more importantly, we have to keep communication and transparency," Haley said. "What their job is, they're just trying to protect the evidence. That's why FOIA became an issue, so we could protect evidence and punish who needed to be punished."

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