EDITORIAL: A Policy Before A Purchase


EDITORIAL: A Policy Before A Purchase



Before Laurens County spends $16,000 on body cameras for detention officers, it needs to write and adopt a clear-cut policy on when, or if, it makes the footage taken by the cameras available to the public.

Body cam footage is not a public document in South Carolina. But, there is a reason.

Body cam footage of patrol officers can show them going into someone’s house, and there can be minor children, or people in various states of undress - violations of privacy, in other words. 

Where there are no violations of privacy (on a public street, for instance), government bodies are free to make the body cam video available for public viewing.

Laurens County needs a policy that says, as it relates to detention center officers, there is no expectation of privacy in a jail; therefore, body cam footage of detention officers is ALWAYS a public document - and available to any citizen filing the appropriate Freedom of Information request. This should apply to all South Carolina counties, and to The State itself, but we are concerned now with our own freedom of information.

It should not be a public document only when it makes the officer or the government look good. Or, it will only be a public document when shown at trial. This second one is not great because a trial can happen years after an incident - and news organizations, like us, are going to want to see the body cam footage immediately. Or, at least, immediately after review by the governing body’s reviewing agent. 

There should be no doubt who that reviewing agent is, and the fact that, that person’s word is final (news organizations or private citizens can litigate the matter if they are dissatisfied with the reviewing agent’s decision). 

Body cams are good for heading off litigation, the county attorney says. 

However, the converse also is true; if detention officers are behaving badly, body cam footage is subject to discovery in a legal proceeding. In other words, the state cannot hide it from the defense under any circumstance. 

It would have been extremely useful, we suspect, in the matter of Sandra Bland in Texas.

If an inmate is non-compliant, it’s on body cam. If an officer beats an inmate, it’s on body cam. The video cuts both ways - except in those rare cases when, at the officer’s discretion, the body cam is turned off. Video doesn’t lie, that’s why some governing bodies refuse to make it public.

Sheriff Reynolds says of the $16,000 expenditure, “This (body cam footage) protects inmates and all our officers from being falsely accused and will make inmates aware that they are being documented.”

Officers, too, deserve that level of “documentation”.


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