Police departments in Horry, Georgetown counties going digital when it comes to evidence

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) – The 18 police departments in Horry and Georgetown counties are going digital when it comes to evidence.

They have six more months to get the job done following a deadline extension last week from Circuit Court Judge Steven John, who wants them to develop new, uniform policies for tracking high-tech evidence like camera footage and cellphone data.

Horry County Solicitor Jimmy Richardson said this initiative will help tighten up what police agencies started doing years ago. A major drive for this improvement falls back on new technology, like Evidence.com, an online "cloud-based" system that stores all data from body cameras to audio records while streamlining data management and sharing.

"This will be easier and will show a clear indication of what was sent. There will be no more of this, 'I didn't get that,' because it will all be there on digital footprint," Richardson said.

Richardson said about every prosecutor's office in the nation is tackling this, an improvement that will switch to strictly digital formats instead of written files.

Still, there are some concerns over the cost of the system, as well as IT problems that could come along with the change. However, the solicitor's office agreed to buy the subscription to Evidence.com, especially for the first year.

Despite some of the hiccups, Richardson said the process is going much smoother than he thought.

He said even though it's tough right now, it's a blessing to pave the way and start a movement that could be echoed throughout the state.

"The technology, the cameras, the body cams, the street cameras is just overwhelming as it is now. There's no way to capture all that in file form. The files grow 10 times, but it's much bigger than that when those images are converted to paper. So, we just couldn't continue to do that and technology sort of made that decision for us. We had to do something different," Richardson said.

Richardson hopes this initiative will get everyone on the same page and that the working relationships between police agencies is also helping in the transition process.

He also hopes it will increase efficiency not just for Horry and Georgetown counties, but possibly someday for the state.

Jonny McCoy, a local defense attorney, said having access to all the body camera footage is beneficial in his practice.

"We want what's relevant. That's going to be the battle always, because they are going to say, 'Well we cut it off at the relevancy, and we're going to say, 'Well, how do we know that?' It's a tricky process. No wonder why they extended it six months. I don't know how to solve the issue," McCoy said.

John first gave the 18 police agencies 30 days from Dec. 1 to make the change, one that will help streamline policies when it comes to keeping track of evidence.

"The key is to remember as defense attorneys that our clients are innocent until proven guilty. We are forwarded every piece of evidence to decide whether or not that's relevant to decide, and whether or not it will help our clients. To say the state gets to pick and choose, that's a scary situation," McCoy said.

McCoy said he's had limited access to body camera footage but is always excited when he is able to get a hold of one.

"Hopefully we can do a unilateral across the board discussion about when, exactly, these body cams should be turned on or off. That way there's no evidence out there that we can assume is missing," McCoy said.

He also stressed the advantages for all sides.

"Body cameras expedite the judicial process and that is the most important thing," McCoy said. "We're here for judicial economy. We don't want any more wasted time, money, and energy.  If we can have exact footage of what took place when, where and why, I think it will streamline the judicial system and I think that's a great thing for both sides."

Copyright 2018 WMBF News. All rights reserved.