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Would Body Cams Have Saved Walter Scott?

The North Charleston Police Department recently received approval to implement the video technology, potentially preventing the fatal shooting of an unarmed man.

Image via YouTube screencapture

A shaky cellphone video taken by a bystander capturing the final moments of 50-year-old Walter L. Scott was enough to expose the deceit in Officer Michael Slager’s dispatch, in which he tries to justify firing eight bullets at the fleeing black man.

The video footage was instrumental in the state charging Slager, now fired, with murder, which raises the question of how events would have taken place had this evidence never surfaced. L. Chris Stewart, the attorney representing the Scott family, indicated that without the video, Slager may have faced little to no reprecussions for his actions, much like the 209 times officers in South Carolina were exonerated for shooting suspects over the past five years.

"It would have just been the standard story of a police officer giving his version and that would be the end of it," said Stewart to the LA Times. "In this case, this officer gave his story, and it turned out not to be true."

On February 2, North Charleston Police Chief Eddie Driggers, Jr. and South Carolina senator Marlon Kimpson announced that $275,000 of South Carolina’s state funding would go towards the acquisition of body cameras. Plans were made for 115 of the devices to be provided for officers in North Charleston, where the murder of Scott took place.

Before Scott was slain, opposition from officials in counties around North Charleston, such as Greer and Florence, cited high costs (up to $300,000 to buy the cameras and another $100,000 to store data), and privacy concerns with the Freedom of Information Act as some of the reasons to delay the spread of the technology.

South Carolina state representative Wendel Gilliard has been pushing for passage of a bill he authored that would require all police officers in the state to wear body cameras. Now, with the nation’s attention turned to North Charleston, Gilliard is optimistic that the body camera legislation will get a full vote, according to the Washington Post.

Body cameras are expected to act not only as an accountability measure to prevent officers from fabricating the details of events, but also as a preventative measure to keep brutality from happening in the first place.

“When police officers are acutely aware that their behavior is being monitored (because they turn on the cameras), and when officers tell citizens that the cameras are recording their behavior, everyone behaves better,” noted The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing in a study report. “The results of this study are highly suggestive that this increase in self-awareness contributes to more positive outcomes in police-citizen interaction.”

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