The S.C. Senate passed a bill Wednesday that would require all police officers in the state to wear body cameras.
Although the proposal passed by a 41-3 vote, senators debated privacy issues and who would be able to request body camera recordings under the Freedom of Information Act. The vote came weeks after release of a video recorded by a bystander showing a white North Charleston police officer shooting and killing an unarmed African-American man in the back as he ran away.
Sen. Lee Bright, a Spartanburg Republican who voted against the bill, expressed concern about the state collecting recordings in a public setting that could be stored indefinitely.
“I think there is a lot of emotion with this bill,” Bright said. “I don’t like it when we pass bills based on emotion and not reason. We are not going to spell out when the recordings are going to be taking place, data storage, the cost of the data storage.”
The bill, which will be sent to the House, allows the release of body camera recordings:
- during court proceedings.
- when the subject of the recording or the victim of a crime requests the recording.
- when a parent, legal guardian or attorney of a minor or someone who is incapacitated requests the recording.
The recording also may be released if it was recorded during the commission of a potential criminal act, if there was an unlawful use of force by the officer and if there is a heightened sense of public interest in the recording. Law enforcement may also release the recording if there was a complaint filed with the law enforcement agency of alleged unlawful use of force.
Sen. Gerald Malloy, a Darlington Democrat who sponsored the bill, he said he was happy with the outcome and the support the bill received.
“We have a product we can move forward with,” Malloy said. “Now we got a bill, and we are addressing our issues, and we hope we continue to have a dialogue between all parties.”
Sen. Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston, said the bill is a chance for South Carolina to be in the forefront of a national debate that has become even more important with riots in Baltimore following the death of a black man at the hands of police officers.
“Today was a good day, because this body has transformed law enforcement the way we know it, if the House passes the bill,” Kimpson said. “We are in a unique position in South Carolina to set a trend across the nation, and we don’t often do that.”
The bill also will require the Law Enforcement Training Council, which oversees the state’s Criminal Justice Academy, to develop guidelines for state and local law enforcement agencies within 180 days of the effective date of the bill, likely early next year.
So far, senators on the Finance Committee last week approved spending $3.4 million for 2,000 body cameras for police officers and the equipment needed to store videos digitally. But Kimpson said there would be more money added as the bill is further reviewed and discussed.
Although the House postponed debate on the bipartisan backed body camera bill until Thursday, Rep. Wendell Gilliard, D-Charleston, said either bill would provide a chance to protect the officer, protect the public and protect the truth.
“The body cameras will take you where the dash cameras won’t,” Gilliard said.