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Matthews to equip KCSO deputies with body cameras

Posted: October 26, 2014 2:06 p.m.
Updated: October 27, 2014 1:00 a.m.

Shortly after taking office in 2011, Kershaw County Sheriff Jim Matthews began looking into equipping his officers with body cameras. As time passed his interest took on a more serious nature and in April 2014, he directed one of his staff to begin the process of evaluating different systems.

Matthews saw the benefits of these cameras for several reasons. Obviously, a camera can record incidents that can be viewed later. These recordings can have an evidentiary value in criminal matters. They also serve another very important purpose. Statistics have shown that an officer’s use of force situations decrease dramatically when a suspect is aware that his actions are being recorded on video. In other words, a suspect is less likely to “show out” when he knows he is being recorded. Additionally, an officer is less likely to respond inappropriately when he knows his actions are being recorded. Complaints against officers can be resolved one way or the other with the aid of video recordings. Statistical evidence has shown that, in most cases, an officer is exonerated with the aid of the video evidence.

Two recent incidents come to mind that support the need for body cameras. In one incident, there was no video recording and in the other where there was. This resulted in two very different outcomes. First, is the shooting incident in Ferguson, Mo. No video of the confrontation between Michael Brown and the Ferguson police officer exists. Conflicting accounts of the incident lead to serious civil unrest. The recent shooting by a S.C. Highway Patrol trooper of an unarmed motorist was captured on the trooper’s dash cam. The outcome was different. The officer was quickly fired and charged criminally pursuant to a review of the dash cam video. No civil unrest occurred. Other factors may have played a part in these different outcomes, but the importance of the dash cam video is significant.

In the course of studying different body camera systems, several different manufacturers provided sample camera systems for testing and evaluation. The cost of these cameras ranges from $100 to $1000 with corresponding levels of quality and features. Reliability, durability, data storage and cost were all factors being considered. The proposal to Kershaw County Council for purchasing these cameras was to be made in 2015, during 2015-2016 budget discussions.

However, shortly after the Ferguson riots broke out, Kershaw County Councilman Jimmy Jones contacted Matthews and asked him to begin looking into the need for body cameras for Kershaw County deputies. Unaware that the process had begun back in April, Jones was pleased that this was already being looked into. Jones wanted Kershaw County to be proactive and take additional steps to reduce the likelihood of a situation like what occurred in Ferguson happening in Kershaw County.

On Oct. 9, Matthews and the deputy tasked with evaluating systems made a presentation to council in which they outlined the benefits of officers being equipped with body cameras. Also contributing to this presentation were a representative of the S.C. Association of Counties and a representative of the S.C. Insurance Reserve Fund. Both of these individuals were highly supportive of the implementation of body cameras for liability reasons and they encouraged county council to approve the funding for them. Although not at the county council meeting, 5th Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson supported the use of these cameras for evidentiary purposes.

At the present time, several things are taking place relative to this project. A formal written policy is being drafted. It will be very comprehensive and will address numerous issues to include privacy concerns. The procurement process is underway and as soon as it is completed, the order will be placed.

The cost for this system will be approximately $47,000. It will include the purchase of individual cameras for all deputies as well as data storage by the company providing the units. An annual recurring fee of approximately $12,000 for data storage will be required for maintaining secure storage for all video footage. This system will give deputies the ability to review their videos and make copies, but they will not have the ability to alter the video in any manner. Funding for this program will be absorbed in the Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office budget and will not require funds being taken from the Kershaw County Reserve Fund.

(This information provided by the KCSO.)

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