The announcement came one day after video surfaced of Patrolman Michael Slager shooting Walter Scott, an unarmed black man who was running away. But South Carolina officers vocalized opposition to body camera legislation.
Bills regarding the use of body cameras have been introduced by multiple state lawmakers in the past few months. One authored by Gerald Malloy (D-Hartsville) and Marlon Kimpson (D-Charleston) last December would require all officers in South Carolina to wear body cameras. Rep. Wendell Gilliard (D-Charleston) filed a similar bill, in addition to one that would mandate a 60-day study of the costs of statewide body cam implementation. Gilliard’s bills are still in the committee hearing process. Malloy and Kimpson’s was heard by a Senate panel early last month.
But police officers throughout the state have spoken out about the cost of implementing body cameras in every department, and the logistics of having to record every encounter.
“I think what we’re going to have to wait for is some court decisions to come down to really tell us when and where to use these things,” said Dan Reynolds, president of the South Carolina Police Chiefs Association. “We developed a policy prior to implementing the system, but there are still some issues that relate to privacy and other things, whether people need to give their permission.”
“Every police officer, which would include me, sheriffs, and anybody that is a sworn law enforcement officer would have to wear a camera all day and record every encounter they have,” Police Chief Greg Mullen of Charleston explained to South Carolina Radio Network. “I’d have to record this interview that we’re having right now, which is really not the intent of what these particular devices are seeking.”
Attorney Michael Nunn, who provides legal counsel for Florence County Sheriff’s Department, lamented the $300,000 it would take to equip 234 officers.
North Charleston, where Scott was killed, is one city that has adopted a body camera policy. Local law enforcement committed to purchasing 115 cameras for $275,000, a scheme that hasn’t launched yet.
Raw video recorded by an anonymous source was ultimately responsible for exposing that Slager shot Scott in the back. Scott, who was pulled over for a broken tail light, was actually running away from the officer, who then fired eight shots. Even more damning, Slager appears to drop an object next to Scott’s body. He’s since been charged with murder.
But as many activists have pointed out in the past, police body cameras do not guarantee justice, as evidenced by the Eric Garner incident. Officers in possession of video footage control the narrative, leaving room for abuse. Without an oversight committee that monitors and responds to police misconduct, video can be useless. Many believe the fight over body cameras also detracts from conversations about specific practices, like rampant racial profiling.