House approves body cam bill

The S.C. House on Wednesday approved a bill calling for more law enforcement officers to be equipped with body cameras but delayed implementing it for at least a year.

COLUMBIA — The state House agreed Wednesday to eventually provide funding to outfit more South Carolina law enforcement officers with body cameras after renaming the measure for the North Charleston man whose death galvanized support.

Rep. Wendell Gilliard, D-Charleston, said he pushed to rename the bill after speaking with the family of Walter Scott, a black man who was shot in the back last month by a white North Charleston policeman after fleeing a traffic stop.

Scott’s killing, recorded on a passerby’s cellphone, rallied backing for body camera bills that already had been introduced but were stuck in committees.

The House measure gives the state six months to study the use of police body cameras and then allowing another six months to put it into practice. The Senate bill calls for quicker action, and the difference would have to be hammered out by a conference committee before it could be sent to Gov. Nikki Haley for her signature.

Scott’s killing by Patrolman 1st Class Michael Slager, who has since been fired and charged with murder, reignited a national debate about body cameras. Congress also is considering taking action on requiring officers to wear the devices.

The Senate bill would set up a fund to pay for body cameras and give state law enforcement officials six months to work out the details of how they should be used. The Senate has set aside $3.4 million to fund it, enough to buy 2,000 cameras and store their data.

Buying cameras for the roughly 12,000 law enforcement officers in the state would cost an estimated $30 million, not including data storage and maintenance.

Rep. Mike Pitts, R-Laurens, angered black lawmakers when he questioned what purpose the cameras would serve.

“Why are we putting cameras on law enforcement to record a situation that can occur, not in seconds, but in splits of a second and then reviewing it as Monday morning quarterbacks at our leisure?” he said during debate.

Pitts later apologized, saying he was disappointed an amendment to the bill to put body cameras on state police patrolling the Statehouse had failed.

His amendment also called for the cameras to be on at all times.

Some members were split on whether a delay in implementing the body cameras was necessary.

“We know that there is a problem,” said Rep. John King, D-Rock Hill. “Why do we need a study committee? What is a study committee going to tell us more than what North Charleston has showed us?”

But other members, including Democrats, said that the state should adopt policies on funding, storing data and privacy issues before implementing a statewide policy.

Reach Jeremy Borden at 708-5837.