South Carolina Law Requires Police to Wear Body Cameras But Prohibits Releasing Its Footage

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.”

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