Police body cameras make sense

The Charleston Police Department has reviewed nine different body cameras from five different manufacturers in an effort to choose the best fit for its officers. Pictured is the TASER AXON body camera. (Melissa Boughton/Staff)

Some of the issues the S.C. Legislature deals with are complicated by politics, money and inertia. Requiring body cameras for police shouldn’t be one of them.

It is a way for lawmakers to assure citizens and the police officers with whom they interact that they will be treated fairly and respectfully. And there could be no better time for enacting such a law.

The shooting death of Walter Scott by North Charleston policeman Michael Slager has spotlighted the value of recording police dealings with citizens. A bystander filmed the shooting on his cellphone, providing a chilling record that what happened was far different than the officer’s account.

After the video surfaced, Mr. Slager was charged with murder and fired from his job.

Bills have been introduced in both the House and the Senate that would make it mandatory for law enforcement officers to wear body cameras.

Reps. Wendell Gilliard and David Mack co-sponsored the House bill. The Charleston Democrats say it is making bipartisan progress, as is a similar bill in the Senate.

And Thursday, the Senate Finance Committee passed a proviso that would allow local governments to purchase the cameras with surplus money from their funds to assist crime victims.

No, all the questions about funding are not resolved, but that ought not be a deterrent to passing the bill. Sen. Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston, secured a grant for North Charleston to purchase 110 body cameras.

Surely officials can find additional funding sources. And the cost of not using body cameras could be far greater than the expense.

If cameras deter officers — and citizens — from unnecessary, hostile behavior, they could spare both from injury or even death.

And if they set the record straight regarding police/citizen interactions, they could eliminate frustration and discord. Video from the cameras would show whether police or citizens behaved inappropriately or illegally.

There are issues to deal with beyond the expense of the cameras and the system for storing video footage. Privacy issues, including public access to footage, will have to be dealt with. So will details about when the cameras will be turned on, and how long the video record is to be retained.

But there are good reasons to pursue their standard use by police in South Carolina.

Sometimes in the wake of a tragedy, people overreact. That is not the case with the body camera legislation. It would be a sound investment in a more lawful, peaceful state.