|Governor Nikki Haley (R) of South Carolina recently signed into law a bill that would require all law enforcement agencies in the state to wear body cameras. However, the footage from the cameras will not be made available to the public.
Al Jazeera America reports that on June 10th, Haley signed the bill in a public ceremony in North Charleston, South Carolina, the site of the shooting of Walter Scott, an unarmed African American man who was shot eight times in the back by police officer Michael Slager. The shooting occurred on April 4th and made national headlines after a bystander recorded it on his mobile phone and released it to the public. The incident prompted national outrage and lead to the firing and arrest of Slager, who was subsequently indicted on murder charges.
In response to the shooting, Haley signed the June 10th law in order to allay concerns about future police misconduct. However, in what some critics call a contradictory move, the state’s House of Representatives included an amendment prohibiting any footage from these cameras from being released to the public, even in response to a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
Observers critical of the amendment, such as Jay Bender, an attorney with the South Carolina Press Association, claim that it totally defeats the purpose of the law.
“That’s a cop cover-up bill,” Bender said. “It’s to protect cops from the public finding out about their misconduct.”
Although the law permits the police to release footage if it so chooses to, Bender is skeptical police departments will if the footage incriminates officers. “They always release video that seems to exonerate the cop,” he said. “They will never release a video that shows misconduct.”
However, Haley is more optimistic about the law’s effectiveness, claiming that it is a major step in the right direction.
“This is going to strengthen the people of South Carolina,” Haley said. “This is going to strengthen law enforcement, and this is going to make sure that Walter Scott did not die without us realizing we had a problem.”
Victoria Middleton, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of South Carolina, also acknowledges the need for privacy regarding body camera footage, stating that victim’s rights are at stake, not just police officer’s.
“There does need to be some respect for privacy, especially of victims,” Middleton said. “If they’re going into a situation in a house where there are minors there or if there are other people being attacked who are not involved in the incident, the video really will have the potential to invade other people’s privacy.”
“All across the US and internationally, citizens are demanding more accountability from law enforcement agencies,” said Jubal Ragsdale, President of 10-8 Video LLC, a supplier of police body cameras an in car video equipment. “This includes wanting officers to have video of their citizen encounters. While I support an individual’s privacy when video is taken inside the home, any video in public should be available. This would allow the public to see events from the officer’s point of view.”
|With incidents of police violence causing protests and drawing media attention around the United States, many people have called for a wider use of body cameras and other recording devices to prevent abuses of power. As a result, a number of police departments around the country have started added cameras to their cars and uniforms. Palo Alto, CA is one such municipality, but officers say the devices aren’t just helpful when it comes to protecting the public: the technology is also helping them gather evidence of crime and prevent false complaints.Thanks to new in car camera systems that have been installed in every police vehicle in Palo Alto, officers now have access to an almost panoramic view of their environment. The system includes five different cameras, including one on the dash, two on their blind spots, one in the backseat, and one at the car’s rear. This network is controlled with a touch screen, allowing the driver to bring up any one of the video feeds with a simple tap. Most importantly, the in car camera systems can capture up to 40 hours of video, which can be rewound and revisited if necessary.
The Palo Alto Police Department says that the cameras will be primarily used to gather and preserve evidence that can be used in court. With several recent cases, including the Ferguson grand jury trial, proving just how subjective eyewitness evidence can be, the value of this video evidence is clear. However, the department has also stated that the in car camera systems will also be used to hold everyone, from citizens to cops, accountable for their actions.
“In Car Cameras for law enforcement benefits the public, the officer and police administration. These benefits include: Officer Safety, Officer accountability, Public opinion, Citizen Complaints and the ability to use recorded footage for training and review. In today’s environment, it’s crucial that departments utilize both in car video and officer body cameras so that every citizen encounter is recorded. Recorded video can then be crucial for the officer, department or the public in determining facts in any encounter,” says Jubal Ragsdale, President of 10-8 Video LLC.
While the cameras are still a new addition, Palo Alto’s police chief has reported that the agency has already seen a positive impact: the number of complaints against officers has dropped. However, with police violence still a controversial topic in many areas and protests continuing in some cities, it remains to be seen if other departments will follow Palo Alto’s lead.