Body camera bill passes on final legislative day

Before this year’s legislative session began, legislators filed two bills that would mandate the use of body cameras by every law enforcement officer in the state. The Association supported the use of body cameras but voiced concerns that cameras would be mandated without a funding source. This could cost municipalities millions for the initial rollout and millions more in continued data storage expenses.  

Early in the legislative session, three Senate Judiciary subcommittees took testimony on S47, one of the body camera bills. 

Numerous representatives from law enforcement and local governments shared data related to the practical impact of the proposed legislation. Chief among those concerns was the need to maintain authority to develop local policies to fit the needs of the particular jurisdiction and the anticipated difficulty related to funding.  

They pointed out that local governments already struggling to muster funding for existing services and projects would be forced to find millions of dollars to purchase the cameras and cover the substantial annual expense related to data storage and management. As the legislative session progressed, legislators seemed increasingly resigned to the idea that the bill would not pass during the 2015 legislative session. 

The debate changed in early April when a North Charleston police officer was videotaped during a shooting incident widely covered by the news media. The video reinvigorated a national discussion about police use of force. House members and senators made passing body camera legislation a priority.  

Senators agreed to a number of House changes to S.47. The bill allowed for policy development at the local and state level, and provided for full funding at the state level as a prerequisite to a local mandate.  

Legislators also amended the bill to include Freedom of Information Act exemptions. This includes shielding video records created by the body cameras from public records requests except as allowed for various reasons enumerated in the legislation, including if the incident is the subject of an excessive force complaint and is a matter of public interest.  

The bill passed the General Assembly on June 4, the final day of the regular session.  

In its final form, the bill requires the state’s Law Enforcement Training Council to develop body camera policy guidelines within 180 days of the bill being signed into law. All state and local law enforcement agencies then have 90 days to create their own local body camera policies and submit them to the Training Council for approval.  

The 2015–2016 state budget includes $3.4 million for body cameras. This will not be enough for a full state rollout, but it will be enough to begin funding body cameras in some jurisdictions that do not currently have them. The Department of Public Safety will offer grants to law enforcement agencies for the initial purchase, maintenance, and replacement of body-worn cameras as well as ongoing costs related to maintenance and storage of data. Agencies are not required to purchase cameras until the state funds them.

 Related links