In 2015, South Carolina became the first state in the nation to require law enforcement agencies to outfit officers with body-worn cameras (BWC). The progressive move was a response to a call for more accountability and transparency in police departments. As communities become more involved in enacting change, law enforcement agencies are exploring meaningful changes in policies and procedures.

South Carolina requires the use of body cameras in its police departments; however, the state leaves it up to the discretion of law enforcement whether or not the footage is released. This part of the mandate has raised concerns about the law in recent years as families and loved ones of those involved in police encounters are finding themselves fighting for the release of footage. When citizens face obstacles to video footage access, they begin to question the effectiveness of the state’s body camera laws and call for change.

South Carolina seems to be at a crossroads as the state faces pressure to reconsider body camera footage as a powerful tool within its communities. The sense that the existing law is not serving its purpose has led to a push for updating the mandate. As the state looks at new legislation, it must also resolve funding issues for body cameras, and consider police reform in the wake of recent protests against hate crimes.

Pending legislation aims to build upon existing body camera policies

Though the mandate is seen as a good initial step, many lawmakers maintain that more needs to be done to bridge the gap between law enforcement and citizens in the community. Prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, discussions around reform efforts were underway but had since stalled. A renewed push for revisions has kickstarted talks and state lawmakers believe changes will come in 2022. 

House bill 3665, introduced in January 2021, seeks to prohibit and provide penalties for the intentional destruction of body camera footage that could be used in a criminal investigation or other legal action. Additionally, the bill makes body camera footage subject to the Freedom of Information Act when it involves the loss of life.

Finding the funding for South Carolina's body cameras

As part of the original body camera law passed in 2015, South Carolina included a call to create a fund to help pay for the equipment through the Department of Public Safety and funded through appropriations from the General Assembly. Though South Carolina law enforcement agencies have received more than $15 million in funding, the actual distribution of this money has been staggered leading many agencies to use money from somewhere else before they are reimbursed.

Additionally, as part of the 2015 law, a law enforcement agency is not even required to implement a BWC program until it has received full funding. And depending on the size of the agency, that amount can be hindering. In order to expand public access to body camera footage, lawmakers must consider funding as part of a reform package. Like other states across the country, South Carolina was faced with the challenge of paying for the expensive body camera equipment and associated storage, training, and processing costs. Limited resources have made it difficult for the state to keep up with the steps necessary to maintain and release the sheer volume of body camera footage produced.

Customized software solutions to meet changing body camera requirements

As BWC programs become more prevalent, states must adapt to not only manage the amount of footage, but develop comprehensive redaction and PII removal policies. Footage release policies will vary from state to state and every jurisdiction must determine how to best foster transparency. Adaptable, automated, and customized public records solutions are key to improving processes in law enforcement agencies. To learn more about GovQA’s partnership with Veritone and its industry-first video redaction software, click here.

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