Charleston police to wear body cameras

Police are wearing body cameras with increasing frequency, allowing them to playback scenes from their communal exchanges.  While this is disturbing some civilians, others are being reassured. (Photo courtesy of West Midlands Police via flickr creative commons)

Police are wearing body cameras with increasing frequency, allowing them to playback scenes from their communal exchanges. While this is disturbing some civilians, others are being reassured. (Photo courtesy of West Midlands Police via flickr creative commons)

On Monday, Feb. 2, Police Chief Eddie Driggers, Jr. and South Carolina Sen. Marlon Kimpson announced that $275,000 of state funding will be going toward the acquisition of body cameras. The money was granted from the Obama Administration’s allocation of $75 million for the purchase of 50,000 cameras. In the City of North Charleston alone, 115 devices will be provided for officers to wear.

The two main purposes behind body cameras are to reduce complaints filed against officers and to rebuild relations between the community and police. Various agencies across the state currently employ the device, creating questions of concern as to whether certain rights are violated with the use of the cameras.

Issues with the device regard the possibility of secondhand party conversations getting picked up along with concerns for  bystanders who are unaware they are being filmed. Controversy has incurred as to whether the new body cameras violate the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. Laws vary from state to state in regards of officer responsibility to inform citizens that they are on camera . In S.C.,  the process of filming operates on a one-party basis.

The Freedom of Information Act allows public records to be readily accessible to the general public, including footage that is taken by officers. Many feel that having this footage exposed could contravene with their intimate situation and expose many personal details to the public eye.

At The College, Public Safety’s desire is to keep up with the body camera trend. Funding opportunities for the cameras are available, however,  a traditional law enforcement agency is more likely to receive the support before a college due to greater crime rates off campus. Since 2009, there has not been a citizen complaint filed against officers at The College for discrimination, bias-based policing or excessive use of force .

Officer Madeline Sloan, from the Department of Public Safety, said body cameras present a unique taboo. “I truly see both sides of the debate. As an officer, I am acting as an agent of the government, and am serving as a public employee. In this sense, I don’t have much of an expectation of privacy and can respect the public’s demands of transparency and increased accountability.”

Sloan continued,  “As a citizen, however, I have privacy concerns. If I call the police because I am the victim of a crime, it is probably the worst day of my life. If my encounter with the police is recorded, it becomes public record and is readily accessible through the FOIA.”

While the Charleston City Police Department is in the process of attaining body cameras, the Department of Public Safety, on campus remains interested in purchasing them. This is something The College has been, and will continue to actively pursue.

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