COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) – A bill to require all South Carolina police officers to wear body cameras raises privacy and financial concerns, some law officers told a state Senate panel Wednesday.
The legislation would make it mandatory for all law officers in South Carolina to wear cameras that would record all contacts they have with the public. Officers would have to tell people they are wearing the devices, and everything recorded would be retained under existing policies governing law agencies.
Some officers are concerned about the cost. Michael Nunn of the Florence County Sheriff’s Department testified that buying cameras would cost his agency more than $300,000 to cover all 234 officers. But that figure doesn’t include the cost of storing data, which could be as much as $100,000 a year, he said.
Nunn, who serves as the department’s spokesman and legal counsel, said the cameras could raise privacy concerns too, since all the captured material would be subject to the Freedom of Information Act.
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“For all the good body-worn cameras can do, we need to understand the limitations to the technology and its effectiveness,” said Nunn, adding that people would be videoed whenever officers came to their homes for any reason, including criminal domestic violence.
Documents reviewed earlier this year by The Associated Press suggest the rush to outfit police officers with body cameras after last summer’s unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, could saddle local governments with steep costs for managing the volumes of footage they must keep for months or even years.
The storage expenses – running into the millions of dollars in some cities – often are overlooked in the debates about using cameras as a way to hold officers accountable and to improve community relations. Booming demand for the devices would accelerate further if Congress adopts President Barack Obama’s budget request for $75 million to help communities buy 50,000 more body cameras.
Supporters of the body cameras say they help prosecutors close cases faster, reduce use-of-force incidents and make allegations of misconduct against officers easier to investigate. Both sides in a videotaped encounter behave better, they say, leading to fewer complaints and legal settlements.
Jarrod Bruder of the South Carolina Sheriffs’ Association said his organization doesn’t oppose the idea of using of body cameras but has problems with how the bill is constructed, particularly its mandate on all officers – including those working undercover.
“Obviously that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense,” Bruder said.
Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, who chairs the subcommittee, said the panel wanted to hear more testimony before taking any action on the bill.
Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP