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Federal Legislation Would Fund Police Body Cams

The legislation would stream $100 million each year for the next five years into a fund for agencies nationwide who need help purchasing cameras.

by Derrek Asberry, Aiken Standard / July 28, 2015
U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, center, has released the Safer Officers and Safer Citizens Act to help fund police body cameras. flickr/North Charleston
(TNS) -- U.S. Sen. Tim Scott is releasing his body camera legislation today – a bill that would serve as a grant program for local police departments seeking funding to arm their officers with the video and audio technology.

The legislation, known as the Safer Officers and Safer Citizens Act, would stream $100 million each year for the next five years into a fund for agencies who need help purchasing cameras that range between $800 and $1,000 per camera. The South Carolina Republican said however much money an agency receives will have to be matched by at least 25 percent locally.

Scott became highly vocal in his support of body cameras after the string of deaths involving unarmed black men and white police officers, including the death of Walter Scott, a 50-year-old North Charleston black man who lived in Sen. Scott’s district.

Walter Scott was killed on April 4 in a police shooting by North Charleston officer Michael Slager. An eyewitness caught the incident on video with his cellphone.

Scott’s bill will join two other similar pieces of legislation in Congress, but the bill offers more funding resources than the other two combined.

Scott said funding for the cameras would come by adjusting regulations regarding paid administrative leave across the federal government. Specifically, the body cam legislation would limit paid administration leave for an employee to no more than 20 days a year, unless personally approved by the agency head.

“About 97 percent of the time, folks who take administrative leave use fewer than 20 days,” Scott said. “That savings (in paid administrative leave) is in excess of $100 million per year.”

The bill would go through the Senate Judiciary Committee, one who’s subcommittee is chaired by fellow South Carolina Republican, Lindsey Graham. Sen. Scott spoke to the committee in May and is hoping for a vote on his legislation by the end of the year.

Scott said multiple federal and national agencies seem to be on board, including the Department of Justice and the NAACP. Other groups he has spoken with include the national mayors group, the Sheriff’s Association and family members of those killed by law enforcement officers.

Scott said there have been inquiries from potential cosponsors in Congress but that the objective to this point has been drafting a simple piece of legislation that keeps power in the hands of local law enforcement agencies.

“Our goal is not to find a way to nationalize local law enforcement, but to do the exact opposite,” Scott said during a media call Monday. “We’re not trying to tell folks how to do their jobs.”

That is why the legislation is crafted in a way that offers voluntary help to pay for cameras, rather than a mandate for agencies to arm their officers with cameras. However, agencies that have a plan in place for body camera usage will have preference for grant funding.

Scott said he hopes the nation will take the Palmetto State’s lead on the issue. Last month, Gov. Nikki Haley signed a Senate bill that requires police agencies to have their officers wear body cameras and create a policy for which officers will wear them, when they should and should not be recording and how videos are stored.

Scott added, “Five years from now looking back, I think we’ll be of the opinion that body cameras are just standard issue with law enforcement uniforms. So I hope this is a step in the right direction.”

Derrek Asberry is a beat reporter with the Aiken Standard. He joined the paper in June. He is originally from Vidalia, Ga., and a graduate of Georgia Southern University. Follow him on Twitter @DerrekAsberry.

©2015 the Aiken Standard (Aiken, S.C.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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