Community leaders questioning transparency of body camera footage

Money is on the way for body cameras for law enforcement agencies in South Carolina. A law was passed last year requiring them. Money will be available by the end of August. The state’s Public Safety Coordinating Council received 168 applications, and approved 164 of them. Funds coming to the Lowcountry include:

  • Dorchester County Sheriff’s Office will receive $56,400
  • Charleston County Sheriff’s Office will receive $81,800
  • Goose Creek Police Department will receive $39,142
  • MUSC Public Safety Department will receive $27,289

Body cameras are supposed to help settle conflicting stories between law enforcement and the public. Recent officer involved shootings compelled the government to spend taxpayer money outfitting officers with cameras, but South Carolina officials don’t necessarily have to release the footage.

The body camera bill was introduced at the statehouse by Representative Wendell Gilliard to hold law enforcement accountable.

He says, “It’s all about transparency”.

But some community leaders say the footage isn’t as accessible as it needs to be because it is not considered public record under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

President of the local chapter of the National Action Network, James Johnson, says, “If you don’t have transparency the public still are skeptical about you. If we release the footage right away we can prevent rioting in cities, and have the communities believe in the police department.”

Law enforcement can choose to release the footage. Charleston County Sheriff Al Cannon was out of town today, but News 2 spoke to him on the phone. He says the decision is complicated because they need to make sure showing the footage won’t impact the investigation or compromise the privacy of witnesses.

Gilliard says, “Soesn’t that contradict transparency? You can’t have it both ways.”

He says he plans to take the issue a step further.

Gilliard says, “The important thing was to get our foot in the door. I figured if this bill becomes law, then we can make amendments along the way for change.”

The footage is available for attorneys and they say it makes a big difference in trial.

Attorney David Aylor says, “The video issue is something that’s important in all types of cases, having that body cam there is really hard to go against. There will be times it malfunctions, absolutely, but as a whole it really brings to light no matter what one side or the other side says, it’s hard to argue with.”

News 2 asked Sheriff Cannon about why body camera footage is treated differently than dashcam footage, which is public record. He says dashcam video isn’t going inside people’s homes or impacting their willingness to give testimony to law enforcement. He says there are still a lot of policy issues that need to be worked out and says, “we haven’t seen the last version of the body camera bill.”

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