North Myrlte Beach, SC - New guidelines set by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Training Council are helping shape agencies' policies surrounding body worn cameras.
In some cases though, local law enforcement departments already match these new standards or even exceed them in some cases.
"I think it's sort of a no brainer to put cameras with officer," North Myrtle Beach Police Chief J. Phillip Webster said. "I think anytime you can document incidents you, especially for prosecutorial issues, videoing crime scenes, videoing interviews when possible, are getting rid of that he said-she said and getting the actual story. To put that in front of the jury, that is just huge."
However, the circumstances surrounding body-worn cameras have become the tricky part of the equation. That's why the state training council was told to come up with guidelines for agencies to shape their policies.
"Its going to make things more standardized across the state as a whole," Webster said. "You might have different departments with different view points about how the body cameras should be employed, and this just keeps it all on the same track."
Some agencies like the North Myrtle beach Police Department already have officers wearing cameras and their own policies. Now they are tasked with comparing their rules to these new standards, which answer some of the most basic questions about body camera use.
Last Friday, the council decided uniformed officers and non-uniformed officers alike will have to wear these cameras, and they must record law enforcement or investigative encounters between officers and the public, covering anything from violent crimes to simple traffic stops.
There are some restrictions though. The guidelines exempt body camera use during interactions with fellow officers or confidential informants unless authorized by a higher authority.
One of the biggest questions these guidelines now answer is how long the footage must be saved. The training council says videos of incidents not related to an arrest or investigation must only be held for 14 days. However, for some agencies, officials say their policies actually exceed these requirements.
"As long as we're compliant with that state mandate, if we choose to say save our evidence for a longer period of time than the state mandates then that's sort of a win win for us and the citizens of North Myrtle Beach," Webster said.
The state training council has said these guidelines are to establish a standard for law enforcement but are not intended to address all topics. The guidelines document is only three pages long, covering the very basic issues, but for agencies like the North Myrtle Beach Police Department, their policies are much more extensive.
Local agencies have until March 7 to turn their policies into the state for review following the release of these standards.
The guidelines also address victim or witness consent. The training council decided that there is no obligation for law enforcement officers to obtain consent from victims or witnesses prior to using a body worn camera during an interview.
"However, if asked about its use, a LEO will be forthcoming about its use. At that time the LEO will have discretion on whether to keep the BWC on or turn it off. If the LEO discontinues the recording, the LEO must document the reason for discontinuation either on the BWC or in a written report," guidelines state.
Restrictions also allow officers to use discretion where there is a victim or rape or sexual assault.
The guidelines continue by saying, "Additionally, to respect the dignity of others, unless articulable exigent circumstances exist, officers will try to avoid recording persons who are nude or when sensitive human areas are exposed."
The new rules also address the retention and release of data recorded by body worn cameras. The training council decided that the video is not a public record subject to disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act unless the person requesting the video meets certain requirements.