Black Caucus: Pass body-camera bill

South Carolina Rep. Carl Anderson of Georgetown speaks during a S.C. Legislative Black Caucus news conference at North Charleston City Hall on Thursday. The news conference was in regards to the police shooting death of Walter Scott and legislation that has been put forward to have all law enforcement officers wear body cameras.

The fatal police shooting of Walter Scott should convince South Carolina lawmakers that legislation requiring all officers to wear body cameras needs to be passed, several members of the S.C. Legislative Black Caucus said Thursday.

Caucus Chairman Rep. Carl Anderson, D-Georgetown, said the North Charleston incident — in which video surfaced of a police officer shooting Scott in the back as he tried to flee — is different from tragic police-involved deaths that occurred in Ferguson, Mo., and New York City.

“I really don’t think it’s going to be a hard fight (to pass the body-camera bill) because it has come home,” Anderson said.

The Democratic lawmakers said they already have signs of bipartisan support, which will be crucial to success in the state’s GOP-dominated Legislature. State Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Charleston, has signed on as a co-sponsor to the Senate bill, and Anderson said House Speaker Jay Lucas has indicated one of two related bills in the House will reach the floor next week.

State Rep. Wendell Gilliard, D-Charleston, was among the lawmakers who thanked Scott’s family, local leaders and others who have kept the peace in the wake of the shooting.

One sticking point to the body-camera bill could be the money required to buy the cameras, train the officers to use them and handle all the resulting data. Anderson said he was unsure of the price tag but expects to have one next week. Rep. David Mack, D-North Charleston, also noted there are federal grants available.

Rep. Cezar McKnight, D-Kingstree, said he did not want to hear arguments that the state doesn’t have the money “because we find money for everything else.”

Lawmakers said they hope the body-camera bill would be the first constructive change made statewide in the wake of Scott’s shooting by North Charleston police officer Michael Slager. He now faces a murder charge.

Some cities, including North Charleston and Charleston, are not waiting on the Legislature. Both already have implemented body-camera plans for their police forces.

The state’s Black Legislative Caucus, which formally organized in 1975, currently has 39 members, 11 in the Senate and 28 in the House. About 10 of them, including Sens. Marlon Kimpson and Clementa Pinckney — two Democrats who represent parts of Charleston County — attended Thursday’s news conference.

Pinckney called the bill “our No. 1 priority” and hoped it would pass “not just this session, but this month.”

Gilliard said that body cameras would not be “a solve-all” for the issues raised by Scott’s death, “but it’s a giant step in the right direction.”

Mack said the incident also shows the need for autopsy reports to be made public. The S.C. Supreme Court ruled last year that such reports are not public record, so without the video the public might not have had a way of learning that Scott was shot in the back, he said.

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.