All law enforcement in South Carolina must now be equipped with body cameras, by law. Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner outlined his support for the new law signed this week, but some citizens say the law is too weak. Beaufort-Burton NAACP Branch President Kenneth Fields disagrees with some of the Sheriff’s proposed policies regarding body camera use.
t’s a form of recording and policing now required under law. All law enforcement must be equipped with body cameras. Fields supports body cameras, in a different way than Sheriff Tanner.
“So, the body camera I think kind of equates everything, it evens out the playing field so that it shows what the officer’s response was, how he handled the situation, and then what was the outcome,” Fields says.
He says the cameras could work to keep officers transparent, and bridge a racial gap by treating all ethnicity the same as shown on camera.
Sheriff Tanner supports the cameras, and the new law, for reasons Fields does not.
“The other side of it is your privacy, your home, your business, and I feel that that needs to be protected,” Tanner said in a news conference last week.
Under the law, the public cannot request the footage.
“That video for that incident that was recorded should not end up on Youtube,” Tanner said.
He says his officers need to have the ability to have confidential discussions with citizens, without citizens fearing they are being recorded.
“Before we start having a conversation with you, we’re going to ask you, we’re going to tell you ‘You know, this camera here, I either have it on or I don’t have it on, do you want me to cut it on? do you want me to turn it off?’ …or what have you, and we’re going to give a lot of that opportunity to the deputy,” he says.
“I whole-heartedly disagree with that,” says Fields, “because the police force really is supposed to be protecting the community despite ethnicity within that community, and I feel that it’s brutality within the police force that enables them to be like a military force so that they can do whatever they want to do, police themselves, and then not be responsible to anybody.”
Fields believes giving officers the choice on when to activate the cameras could defeat the tool’s purpose and shut-out the public from policing law enforcement.
“I think that when the camera is turned on it should remain on. I think that media as well as individuals in the community should be able to request that information and it should be turned over to them,” he says.
Tanner said there are situations where the cameras will be required to roll, when a call turns volatile. Under the new law, the Sheriff’s Office will be able to create their own body camera policy with guidelines from the South Carolina Law Enforcement Training Council. He says not every officer will be required to wear the cameras, but officers in gang units, serving arrest warrants, in those types of situations, he will require to wear them.