Tim Scott Revives Police Body Camera Legislation

Tim Scott Revives Police Body Camera Legislation
Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) speaks to media on Capitol Hill in Washington on Nov. 16, 2016. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON — Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) is seizing on National Police Week as the right time to re-introduce his legislation to help all departments get outfitted with body cameras for officers.

Scott began his push for the grant program in 2015. The senator grew up in North Charleston, S.C., where Walter Scott, no relation, was running from police after a traffic stop that April and was shot in the back. The officer, Michael Slager, was fired and pleaded guilty this month to federal civil rights charges in exchange for state murder charges being dropped.

There was no body camera footage of the shooting, but it was captured on a cell phone camera by a bystander.

Scott intensified his campaign for body cameras after Freddie Gray, a young man in Baltimore who suffered a fatal spinal injury in police custody, died in April 2015. No officers were convicted in his death.

In a letter then to Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Scott noted the “critical role” that video played in showing what exactly happened in “the tragic and unnecessary” death of Walter Scott.

“I believe that the deployment of body-worn cameras will provide increased protections for both law enforcement officers and those they serve. At least one study shows that public complaints against officers wearing body cameras fell by almost 90% and that officers’ use of force decreased by 60%,” he wrote. “At a minimum, we owe it to our communities and law enforcement officers to consider this study and other evidence to explore the wisdom of widespread deployment of body-worn cameras.”

Today in a statement, Scott, who has been working with various stakeholders from law enforcement to civil rights groups to craft his latest Safer Officers and Safer Citizens Act, argued that communities clamoring for body cameras has paid dividends.

“As the use of body cameras continues to rise across the nation, we see more and more just how important they can be in efforts to keep both police officers and the communities they serve safer,” he said. “Our nation has experienced too much pain and heartache from tragedies that could have been more clearly explained if body cameras were in use.”

“While there is no panacea, body cameras are without a doubt a positive step forward, and I will continue to advocate for this important legislation with my colleagues in Congress.”

The legislation would create a new grant program, of which Scott said costs would be offset, at the Justice Department to allow departments that have developed body camera programs to get federal aid to purchase the equipment and get their system off the ground.