Should all SC cops have to wear body cameras?

Or, to put it another way, should every county and municipality in South Carolina have to pay to buy and maintain body cameras for every cop in the state?

Two lawmakers think so:

South Carolina Senators Malloy and Kimpson File Body Camera Legislation

Senators Malloy and Kimpson will pre-file legislation tomorrow requiring all law enforcement officers in the State of South Carolina to wear body cameras that can record any and all contact with persons in the performance of the law enforcement officers’ official duties.

“As chair of the Criminal Task Force, Sentence Reform Commission, Sentencing Oversight Commission and author of numerous bills in the criminal arena, my experience informs me that police officers should be collecting more evidence all the time,” stated Senator Malloy.  “History has demonstrated that eyewitnesses are not always the most reliable form of evidence.  It is time for South Carolina to invest in common sense technology.  This investment is critical to preserving the integrity of our system of justice.”

“Disputed facts are often an issue in encounters with law enforcement as we’ve seen with the incident between Michael Brown and Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri,” stated Senator Kimpson.  “Right here in Charleston, there remains a dispute about what happened to Denzel Currnell.  It is important to note that while a dashboard camera did not stop South Carolina highway trooper Sean Groubert from shooting Levar Jones, it did lead to the officer’s firing and arrest.  Body cameras would provide everyone a clearer picture of the facts,” continued Kimpson.

Representative Wendell Gilliard plans to introduce a similar bill in the House when pre-filing opens on December 11th.  “I applaud Senators Malloy and Kimpson for filing this legislation.  Over the summer, I met with many representatives of the law enforcement community and neighborhood leaders who indicated that they would welcome this legislation.  Statistics confirm increased use of body cameras tend to reduce the number of confrontations,” said Representative Gilliard.

I suppose as reactions to Ferguson go, this is preferable to chaos in the streets. And indeed, we’ve had our share of problematic uses of force right here at home in the past year.

But I have to wonder whether this is overdoing it…

36 thoughts on “Should all SC cops have to wear body cameras?

  1. Silence

    I say yes. Of course the body cameras will be expensive to purchase, and the data will need to be maintained and stored securely, which will have an additional cost, but the reduction in lawsuits and settlements that could be achieved ought to more than pay for the costs. The cameras would deter false claims, and make illegal behavior by any involved party easier to prove in front of a jury. The cameras could aid prosecutors and civil attorneys too.
    What’s more, people behave differently when they think they are being watched. Cops and the general public will both be more likely to be on their best behavior when they know that they are being filmed. I really think it could be a win/win for the public, the taxpayers and for law enforcement.

  2. Kathryn Fenner

    I agree with Silence, but only if there is no rule like the stupid DUI one that any part of a transaction not caught on camera cannot be used in court!

    1. Mark Stewart

      One would think that a majority of SC legislators are either drunks or criminal defense attorneys (sorry, Juan, have to agree with you on this one) with the way they have given drunk driving the UVA frat boy treatment.

      People, and not just the drunks, die needlessly every day in this state. The idiot legislator with a pebble in his shoe is funny, the scores of repeat offenders who kill families at all hours and in all neighborhoods is not.

      1. Kathryn Fenner

        I actually don’t think the pebble in his shoe is funny haha as much as funny in darker ways.
        I agree with you and Juan that our state laws are crafted too often by defense attorneys–except when they are crafted by small time operators who are in the bag to businesses. Read the sales tax exemptions–although no one ever got killed as a proximate cause of a sales tax exemption, think of how much better our roads could be, our schools, our law enforcement, if we had that revenue coming in! –And the property tax exemption for owner-occupied!

      2. Barry

        Kershaw County was arrested SUNDAY morning for DUI for the 5th time. He’s been CONVICTED of Driving Under the Influence 4 times.

        (He was also driving with a suspended license) He led cops on a police chase, and he ran into numerous homeowner mailboxes knocking them down. He also provided false information to the arresting officer, and was charged with leaving the scene of an accident.

        He was out on bond Monday.

        Judges don’t care about DUI offenders either.

  3. Bryan Caskey

    I’m breaking this down into two questions:

    1.Are body cameras a good idea?

    Sure. They protect honest cops from false allegations, and they protect honest citizens from crooked cops. The body cameras are a good idea. Let’s call it a “best practice”.

    2. Should body cameras be mandatory for every police officer in the State?

    Well, just because something is a best practice doesn’t mean that it should be mandatory for everyone. I’m sure there are some really small towns in South Carolina with one or two city police officers, where the cameras might not be considered necessary. Maybe a tiny town doesn’t want to spend the money on the cameras, data storage, maintenance, and all the other issues that come along with the cameras. Maybe some larger municipalities (Columbia, Charleston, Greenville) may find a benefit to the cameras and enjoy an economy of scale. That would probably hold true for all counties as well. However, for some small towns, it might not make sense.

    Essentially, I would have to defer to Brad’s oft-repeated idea of letting decisions be made at the most local level where possible.

    For something like this, I would say that Highway Patrol and County Sheriffs could have a mandatory camera requirement, along with large municipalities. However, I would probably want to see some sort of threshold requirement for it to be mandatory. What that threshold would be is debatable. It could be population, number of police officers, budget for the municipality, etc.

    1. Kathryn Fenner

      Dunno about the small towns. How many small town sheriffs and police chiefs have turned out to be corrupt?
      And the speed traps: I advise the professor to be extra careful about his speed anywhere where there is a small tax base. Especially on a four lane or more road, with a 35 MPH speed limit…

      1. Mark Stewart

        I was about to comment on this. It’s too bad the news media no longer has the resources to FOI audit the traffic tickets of counties (Lee and Darlington for instances) or the towns along I-95. Reviewing camera footage would take way longer than a simple spreadsheet of tickets issued, however.

        My personal prediction is that on-officer cameras will see only limited acceptance in SC (like Columbia or Charleston), mostly because of how damning they would be to those arrested for DUI…

      2. Bryan Caskey

        Well, the residents of the small towns (through their elected leaders) could have their police departments spring for body cameras. Presumably, the residents of small towns would have the most interest in curbing any corruption that might exist. Maybe some would, maybe some wouldn’t. Once the technology gets cheap enough, you would think that police departments most everywhere would voluntarily go to the cameras for their own protection.

        If I’m a police officer, I want a camera.

        1. Barry

          I would want a camera too- but mainly for the same reason an officer told a CNN host today- he wanted one to show folks like the talking heads on tv- and the news media of the danger, and violence that many officers face every day.

        2. Kathryn Fenner

          Not really–residents of small towns often benefit from the corruption, especially harassment of out-of-towners.

        3. Silence

          I think the taxpayers should want the camera. A few settlements can really drain a small town’s bank account…

      3. Barry

        If they use body cameras- they will only be turned on at certain times. They won’t be running all the time due to all sorts of privacy concerns, and officers just forgetting to turn them on.

        Body cameras are not likely to catch corrupt officers – at least not in the fashion some would expect them to do.

        I think they can be useful in some situation- but they also post a whole mess of privacy concerns and issues.

      4. Juan Caruso

        “How many small town sheriffs and police chiefs have turned out to be corrupt?” – KF

        I believe the percentage would compare to that of large county sheriffs and metro cities police chiefs , fairly closely. Let’s not fool ourselves.

        1. Kathryn Fenner

          Sure, but the assertion was that small towns didn’t need them as much as large counties and metro cities

  4. Harry Harris

    As far as the cost, I’m sure they will cost 5-10 times what a consumer version with the same functionality would cost. Storage, if they had common-sense systems, would cost very little, but of course the vendors will sell them gold-plated solutions.

    1. Silence

      Harry – I agree with you that an officer body camera will likely cost a large multiple of a standard GoPro or other available consumer camera. They’ll need a battery life long enough to last a shift, probably 8-12 hours. There’s probably other specs I haven’t thought of, too.
      As far as storage, they’d certainly need a storage system that would meet any “chain of custody” requirements, to help keep the video secure and remove the possibility of tampering, editing, or being found unusable by a court of law… This would certainly add some cost. SLED could provide such a system for smaller departments to upload and store/manage their video centrally to keep costs to a minimum.

    2. Barry

      Storage wouldn’t be cheap. it’s not like they could store it on thumb or portable hard drives at the station.

      Attorneys would get every bit of that video tosses out of court every single time.

      Of course then the video captured has to not only be stored- but backed up – and in South Carolina with the way things work here- some of that video would have to be stored for years.

        1. Barry

          If it isn’t stored properly, it’s tossed.

          Officers not downloading the video properly, or timely, or at all…….

          The date stamp not being correct, or updated…….

          Any number of ways in South Carolina, especially after the GA gets ahold of it.

  5. M. Prince

    Early results from other locales seem to indicate that body cams on police achieve the desired ends.

    And yet…

    I’m not very sanguine about the road we’re heading down. I can’t help but recall the image of a near-term future offered by Dave Eggers in his novel, The Circle. It’s a picture of a culture of monitoring that with every good intention has turned practically all personal conduct into public acts. It’s a society in which, according to a popular marketing slogan, “Privacy is Theft”. For anyone who believes in the value of privacy, it is not a pretty picture.

    1. Barry

      Or in the Tom Cruise movie- where they watch everything by video- and the police make arrests before a crime is committed.

      I can now see a path where we get to that destination. When the movie came out, I thought it was the stuff of fantasy.

      1. Kathryn Fenner

        Minority Report.
        Science Fiction—and science fiction hasn’t been all the useful a predictor of the future (Space 1999, anyone) –it’s more a device to comment on the present.

      2. Bryan Caskey

        Barry, in Minority Report they didn’t watch things through video cameras on police officers. They watched a hologram projected from a weird telepathic being floating in a weird pool of liquid that transported these telepathic visions of the future to a a screen. Using that, the police could “see” crime before it happened.

        To compare that to video cameras is like saying we should really worry about producing more DeLoreans because you saw one in a movie that went back in time to 1955.

        Cameras aren’t going to see into the future. They’re simply going to record what actual, live police officers see. Body cameras are like the dashboard cameras on police cars now, but on law enforcement.

        1. Barry

          I understand the difference.

          I also understand that with the world changing, things sometimes have consequences that aren’t predicted.

          I am not against cameras. But I am not sure they are much of an answer in many situations.

          1. Bryan Caskey

            They certainly aren’t a panacea, but I think they can have some benefit.

            All I’m saying is that before we mandate that everyone (including tiny little towns like Nichols, for instance) let’s just try it out with larger law enforcement departments that have the resources to really make it work well.

            1. Small Town Guy

              The Town of Nichols has been using Body Worn Cameras going on 3 years with no issues. Much more reliable than the Mobile Video on the dash of the car as their Officers activate them everytime they leave the car.

              Now if Nichols can do it with success and other department should be able to as well.

  6. Ralph Hightower

    This sounds like legislation that is pushed from the General Assembly to the counties and cities to implement without funding for the body cameras.
    It’s a great idea, but somebody has to pay for it.

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