Senate gives initial OK to body cameras, but cost, privacy remain concerns

Body cameras, like these worn by Philadelphia police officers, would be required for all law enforcement officers in South Carolina under bills being considered by the state House and Senate.

The Senate gave initial approval Tuesday to a bill requiring South Carolina cops to wear body cameras, which have become a rallying cry after the fatal shooting of Walter Scott by a North Charleston police officer who is accused of murder.

Senators approved the plan unanimously, but changes could still be made before it is sent to the House.

The 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’s budget-writing committee has set aside $3.4 million to fund it, enough to buy 2,000 cameras and store 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.

Upstate Republican Sen. Lee Bright, of Spartanburg, said he plans to propose changes to the bill when it next comes up for a vote so that the Legislature can review the details of the program once the Law Enforcement Training Council decides on them. Others say they’re worried about the costs and privacy issues.

To have a chance of becoming law this year, the bill needs to clear the Senate this week, thanks to a looming procedural deadline.

Sen. Gerald Malloy, D-Hartsville, said he’s confident that the bill would meet the deadline, adding that passing the bill is a must after South Carolina avoided the unrest after Scott’s shooting death that has engulfed other cities where blacks were enraged by what they considered police brutality and misconduct.

“As society changes, we have to change,” Malloy said. “This should be the bill that should become the law of this state.”

The House is set to consider its own body camera proposal this week, but decided Tuesday to hold off on a vote. The House measure asks state law enforcement officials to study agencies that already use cameras, effectively delaying decisions on their use statewide.

Body camera bills were proposed in the House and Senate early in this year’s session, but neither had advanced past subcommittees before a North Charleston police officer was captured on video shooting Scott in the back earlier this month as he ran away.

The shooting reignited a national debate about body cameras and spurred lawmakers into action. Congress also is considering making body cameras a requirement.

Cynthia Roldan contributed to the story.