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Deadline set to submit local body-camera policies

State and local law enforcement agencies have until March 7 to submit their body-worn camera policies to the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy for approval. All agencies must develop a policy regardless of when they plan to roll out body cameras to their officers.

In June, South Carolina became the first state to pass legislation requiring state and local law enforcement officers to wear body-worn cameras while performing their duties. However, the mandate to supply officers with cameras does not become effective until the state provides full funding.

The legislation, conceived and introduced by Senator Gerald Malloy and championed by Senator Marlon Kimpson, initially struggled to pass a Senate Judiciary subcommittee until the tragic police officer-involved shooting of a motorist in North Charleston drew the nation’s attention and galvanized the legislature.

The new law requires the state’s Law Enforcement Training Council within the Criminal Justice Academy to create guidelines for the use of body-worn cameras. These guidelines will then be used by state and local law enforcement agencies to create their own body camera policies.

On December 7, the Training Council officially adopted its statewide guidelines. The guidelines address which officers must wear body cameras, when they must be worn and activated, when officers are restricted from recording, and when officers may deactivate their cameras.

The guidelines also make it clear that officers are not required to seek permission from the party being recorded, and they lay out in greater detail the circumstances under which video created by the body camera may be released to the public or reviewed by the officer.

Law enforcement agencies are not required to release body-camera video through an FOIA request. However, the video may be obtained by someone involved in criminal or civil litigation, and by court order.

Agencies that have already rolled out body cameras are also under the mandate to institute policies based on these new guidelines or make any changes to existing policies to ensure they are consistent with the new guidelines.

Once the Criminal Justice Academy approves the local body-camera policy, officials can apply to the Public Safety Coordinating Council within the Department of Public Safety for funds to cover the cameras’ costs. The General Assembly established a fund to cover the initial cost of equipment, replacement, maintenance and data storage related to the body cameras. It also covers reimbursement for agencies that have already started using cameras.

When applying for funds, officials should take into consideration projected costs over at least several years because it is unlikely, without an increase in state funds allocated, that grantees will receive funding on an annual basis.

Forward local body-worn camera policies to James Fennel, general counsel of the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy, at jfennell@sccja.sc.gov.