South Carolina police officials have been pushing back against a bill that would require police officers to wear body cameras while in the line of duty.
On Tuesday, Michael Slager, a white police officer with the North Charleston police force, was charged with murdering Walter Scott, an unarmed black man, after shooting Scott eight times. The incident was caught on a video, published by the New York Times, that contradicts several important parts of the officer's initial account.
The body camera bill was introduced late last year by two state senators. It would require all police to wear the cameras and use them to record interactions with the public.
North Charleston recently announced it would purchase 115 body cameras using a $275,000 federal grant. But representatives of other state law enforcement agencies have criticized the bill in its current form.
“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,” Dan Reynolds of the Greer police Department said last month according to the Greenville News' Michael Burns. (He didn't say which court decisions he was referring to.) “I don’t think the body camera issue is resolved yet. We’re still learning how to use these things.”
Michael Nunn of the Florence County Sheriff's Department (which does not include North Charleston, where the shooting happened) said buying cameras would cost his agency more than $300,000 a year, plus an additional $100,000 to store data, according to the Associated Press. He also said the bill raises privacy concerns, since all the captured material would be subject to the Freedom of Information Act.
"For all the good body-worn cameras can do, we need to understand the limitations to the technology and its effectiveness," said Nunn, according to the AP.
On Tuesday, the Charleston Post and Courier reported Sen. Marlon Kimpson, a co-sponsor of the bill, had criticized the law enforcement response to the proposal.
"[The bill would have likely advanced by now if] law enforcement came to the table enthusiastically and endorsed the bill,” he said.
South Carolina is one of at least 15 states considering police body camera bills. A report cited by White House's Taskforce on 21st Century Policing found that the officers wearing cameras had 87.5 percent fewer incidents of use of force and 59 percent fewer complaints than the officers not wearing the cameras. (On the other hand, a recent Fusion investigation found that body cameras didn't appear to reduce use of violence by police).
According to Columbia, S.C.-based newspaper The State, South Carolina officers have been exonerated in more than 200 shootings.
"When police officers are acutely aware that their behavior is being monitored (because they turn on the cameras), and when officers tell citizens that the cameras are recording their behavior, everyone behaves better," the taskforce said in its summary of its proceedings. "The results of this study are highly suggestive that this increase in self-awareness contributes to more positive outcomes in police-citizen interaction."
The bill must be passed by the House by June of next year in order for it to become law in the state's current legislative session, Burns says.
Rob covers business, economics and the environment for Fusion. He previously worked at Business Insider. He grew up in Chicago.