Progress of body camera use in the Lowcountry

NORTH CHARLESTON, SC – Governor Nikki Haley signed the body camera bill Wednesday and now it’s time to start implementing the cameras across the Palmetto State. Some law enforcement agencies have already begun the process.

In Summerville, all officers have been fitted for the cameras. The City of Charleston has purchased a total of 290, with 42 currently worn by officers in the testing phase. North Charleston has 102, with another 150 ordered. 37 of those are currently being field tested. Mt. Pleasant just received their shipment of body cameras last week: 150. Eight K9 and bicycle officers are testing them in the field now and training for the rest of the department will begin soon.

Mt. Pleasant Police Department Inspector Chip Googe says, “We’re going to do a very slow rollout to make sure everything gets worked out at the end of the month we are going to equip our first two teams, our patrol teams, with it and from there we are going to make sure any bugs are ironed out and then get it unrolled to the rest.”

Summerville Police Department Captain Jon Rogers says, “You’re not there, you don’t see or feel what the officers are going through in their own eyes but we do get a view of what’s happening and it’s helped us with cases already.”

The bill signed by Gov. Haley requires all law enforcement to wear the body cameras. Many local agencies have already begun the process of creating the policy and ordering the technology.

Inspector Googe says, “There’s certain calls that they have to turn them on to, whether it’s suspicious activity, any violent calls they’re going to, anything where an assault is in progress, anything where they are going to make contact with a suspect or make an arrest or investigation.”

But most of these cameras do need to be manually turned on, so agencies say there’s a chance not every interaction will be captured.

Capt. Rogers says, “Of course there are times where it’s just not going to happen. You have to be realistic. Hypothetically they might get out of their car and run after someone real quick. Well, again, they’re focused on running after someone they might not hit the button to record, so you have to have a reasonable mind about why the camera wasn’t activated.”

With extra accountability now in play, News 2 asked Mt. Pleasant Police Department if officers may be more hesitant to use force, even if it’s justified.

Inspector Googe says, “Officer safety is going to be paramount and so I don’t think it’s going to make them think twice. If they are going to take an action they are going to have to do it if it’s justified, as it usually is. It’s just going to have the evidence to show it, so I don’t think it’s going to make them more hesitant, at least in our case.”

Mt. Pleasant PD says if anything, the body cameras will validate the officer’s actions.

Inspector Googe says, “It’s going to catch a lot of the good things that we already do, that we don’t have video of that people aren’t aware that we’re doing versus catching anything bad. I think it’s going to help the professionalism we already display. Through our training and through our hiring process we already have the caliber of officer we want.”

Now that the bill is signed, the Law Enforcement Training Council has 180 days to conduct some studies, including the costs and implementing procedures. That council will then develop the guidelines for body camera use for the state of South Carolina.

U.S. Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) released the statement below following South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley (R) signing Bondy Camera legislation into law: 

“I want to thank the South Carolina Legislature and Governor Haley for moving quickly on this issue and determining the path forward for the usage and implementation of body-worn cameras in South Carolina,” Scott said. “I am proud we were able to come together as a state and take this step to help keep both our law enforcement officers and the communities they serve safer.” Scott continued, “I look forward to introducing legislation in the U.S. Senate in the coming weeks to help provide tools and resources for departments in South Carolina and across the nation to purchase and implement body-worn cameras. With multiple studies showing a decrease in both public complaints against officers and in the use of force by officers, it is clear body cameras can play an important role in rebuilding trust between law enforcement and communities.”

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