In a North Charleston ceremony, Gov. Nikki Haley signed into law a bill that would eventually require all South Carolina law enforcement agencies to begin using body cameras on their officers.
The governor chose to sign the bill at a North Charleston community center less than three miles away from a vacant lot where a police officer shot and killed 50-year-old Walter Scott in April. The officer in that case was indicted earlier this week on murder charges after a bystander’s cell phone video appeared to show him firing at Scott as the suspect fled ran through the lot following a struggle. Scott had run from his car after the officer stopped him for a reported taillight violation.
“We can honestly say that today people will be safer than they were yesterday,” 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 that Walter Scott did not die without us realizing that we had a problem.”
Scott’s death spurred legislators, getting them to act on a bill that appeared to be stalling in committee over concerns about cost and privacy rights. Both the House and Senate overwhelmingly passed the measure, with only one senator voting not to send it to the governor last week.
Haley gave Scott’s mother Judy one of the pens she used to sign the law. His brother Anthony Scott said South Carolina’s law is the first of its kind in the nation. “With these cameras being introduced… that will protect lives,” he said shortly before the governor signed the law. “Officer lives as well as the public’s lives. This is a great thing and I’m sure my brother is looking down now saying, ‘Good job. Good job, South Carolina.'”
The law orders the Law Enforcement Training Council to come up with guidelines within six months that govern use of the cameras. All state and local law enforcement agencies will then have an additional three months to submit their own policies on how cameras would be used, with the Training Council needing to approve each plan.
Agencies would have the option of applying for state grants to help buy the cameras, but legislators said they will not be able to set aside grant funding until next year. Police departments would not be required to follow the regulations until they are able to purchase the cameras.
The bill’s main sponsor State Sen. Gerald Malloy, D-Darlington, said many police departments are already piloting the cameras. “It protects the officer, it protects the citizen, it protects the truth,” he said. “When things change, then we have to change.”
Footage from the cameras would not be open to the public through open records requests (as dashboard camera is), but any civilians or suspects recorded on the video, or their families, would be able to request a copy. Malloy noted there was nothing in the law that would stop those individuals from then making the video public.