WASHINGTON, D.C. – Thursday, U.S. Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) introduced the Safer Officers and Safer Citizens Act to help provide state, local and tribal police departments with resources to outfit officers with body-worn cameras. Senator Scott has worked with more than a dozen groups, including law enforcement associations, civil rights organizations and privacy advocates, over the past three months to develop the legislation.
Studies have shown that body-worn cameras can play an important role in keeping both law enforcement officers and the communities they serve safer. One study of the body camera program in Rialto, California showed public complaints against officers wearing body-worn cameras fell by almost 90% and that officers’ use of force decreased by 60%.
“Across our nation, too often we are seeing a lack of trust between communities and law enforcement lead to tragedy,” Senator Scott said. “While rebuilding that sense of trust will take time, I believe that providing law enforcement agencies with the resources they need to equip officers with body-worn cameras is an important step. We have seen that body-worn cameras can keep both officers and citizens safer, and that video can help provide clarity following an altercation. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video is worth a thousand pictures.”
The Safer Officers and Safer Citizens Act authorizes a new grant program at the U.S. Department of Justice that will allow departments who have developed policies and procedures regarding body-worn cameras to apply for funds to aid in the purchase and initial setup costs of their body-worn camera program. Funding for the new grant program is offset, and totals $100 million a year from Fiscal Years 2016-2021. State, local and tribal departments will be required to match 25 percent of the grant funds, and should support their body camera program with a comprehensive communication and educational campaign.
Preferential consideration will be given to departments whose policies regarding body-worn cameras meet the following criteria:
· A comprehensive policy developed in consultation with criminal justice experts and community members
· Contains policies and procedures addressing deployment, video capture, viewing, use, release, storage, retention, audits and controls
· Is supported by a comprehensive communication and education campaign
· Is informed by the best practices on body worn cameras developed by the Department of Justice
· Commits to submitting data for the purposes of studying the effectiveness of the usage of body worn cameras
The grant program is paid for by adjusting regulations regarding paid administrative leave for Federal employees. The bill requires the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to issue regulations limiting administration leave for an employee of any agency to no more than 20 days a year, unless personally approved by the agency head. A report by the Government Accountability Office found that between 2011 and 2014, 57,000 federal employees were placed on administrative leave for more than a month while the agency determined whether to punish or clear them for alleged misconduct. As the Washington Post reported, the salary costs alone for the extended leave were more than $775 million. Administrative leave does not include vacation days, sick days, maternity leave, or other leave under the Family Medical Leave Act.
This past May, Senator Scott called for a Senate hearing on body-worn cameras, and testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee <> on the issue last month. Following the death of Walter Scott this past April in North Charleston, the South Carolina Legislature passed legislation mandating the use of body cameras by departments in the state of South Carolina.