A bill that would fund and require body cameras for all South Carolina police officers was passed unanimously out of a state senate committee Wednesday.
The bill was introduced in December by State Sen. Gerald Malloy, D-Darlington. Co-sponsor State Sen. Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston, said it has bipartisan support with co-sponsors including State Sen. Paul Thurmond, R-Charleston, and State Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley.
The bill had stalled in the Senate for the past two months until it picked up momentum following a public outcry over an April 4 North Charleston police shooting. In that case, an officer shot and killed a suspect who fled from him after a struggle. Bystander video appeared to contradict the officer’s description of why he shot the suspect.
The Legislative Black Caucus has said passing the bill is one of their top priorities this session.
The committee heard testimony Wednesday from Quinten Williams, a former FBI agent and federal prosecutor. “It’s been shown through statistical data that there has been marked decrease in shootings when these tools have been implemented,” Williams told the panel. “Cameras tell the truth.”
Williams added that the legislation would help in rebuilding the people’s faith. “I think this bill is about regaining public trust. It’s about transparency and it’s also about the protection of both law enforcement officers and the public.”
Several victim’s advocate groups said they had concerns about the extent of body camera use, including privacy and Freedom of Information request issues. Law enforcement groups are also worried about the potential costs of the cameras and data storage. A revenue impact study done for Malloy’s bill estimates it would cost about $21 million to equip most state and local law officers with the cameras the first year, and $12 million per year after that.
Malloy said any costs of body cameras should be balanced with the costs of unnecessary police shootings, follow-up investigations and bad publicity for South Carolina.