Body-worn cameras have emerged as a common tool for law enforcement officers nationwide.
In South Carolina, the Law Enforcement Training Council, acting in accordance with a law passed by the General Assembly in 2015, established statewide guidelines for the use of body cameras. The law requires all agencies to develop a body camera policy and it determines who may obtain body camera videos. South Carolina law enforcement agencies are not required to release body camera videos through Freedom of Information Act requests, but courts can order videos released. Those involved in criminal and civil litigation can obtain the videos as well.
The law also created a mandate for all officers to wear cameras. However, the mandate does not become effective until the state provides full funding for cameras, which has not happened yet. The General Assembly has made some appropriations toward the costs of the cameras, but not full funding.
Around the state, police departments vary in the ways they manage the use of the cameras and the video data generated by every officer's shift. Data management can range from a fully integrated off-the-shelf software and hardware solution to hard drives that serve as a backup to the server. Data retention is another key issue, where the amount of time video data is kept can vary depending on what kind of legal case is involved. In some cases, the video is needed for a relatively short period of time, while others need data to be stored indefinitely.
The system used by the Summerville Police Department allows uploading of videos into storage as soon as officers pull into the parking lot of the station at the end of the shift, Chief Jon Rogers said.
One of the changes made with storage, he said, was a longer data retention period for files with certain event tags — for example, a citation for municipal court.
"That way we're not pulling the stuff down, burning it to CDs and putting it into evidence, because we were filling up quite a bit of our evidence room with DVDs and CDs, and of course, it's an added expense," he said. "So, we started adjusting out certain drop-off dates on which stuff would be removed from the server to help ease time of pulling it down and burning it to disks."
For some municipal court cases, therefore, the data stays on the server and is then added onto a tablet for its use on the court date. For other cases, like general sessions cases, which can have a timeframe spanning years, the files are still burned onto disks.
In the Town of Ninety Six, officers reaching the end of their shift make use of designated docking stations outside the server room, both to upload the camera data and also to recharge the camera.
Chief Chris Porter said that the town's system of dedicated computer hard drives for body camera data had created no storage issues. For retention, he said the department keeps the removal of old files completely manual, to prevent the loss of needed files because of an automated deletion process.
View the Law Enforcement Training Council's guidelines for body-worn cameras.