It’s been two years since former Gov. Nikki Haley signed a law requiring all law enforcement agencies in the state to equip officers with body-worn cameras, and the devices are now in wide use in the Upstate.
Deputies with the Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Office and the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office were already using body cameras before the law was enacted. Other agencies, such as the Spartanburg Police Department and Union County Sheriff’s Office, have fulfilled the requirement more recently.
In July 2016, the U.S. Department of Justice approved a federal grant for the Spartanburg Police Department that allowed it to purchase body cameras.
By September, all officers had begun training with the cameras.
“We had about 20 to start with, and we still have those, but we bought another 85,” said Maj. Art Littlejohn with the Spartanburg Police Department. “Everybody who needs one now has one.”
The Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office purchased body cameras four years ago, said Sheriff Steve Mueller. All uniform patrol deputies are outfitted with the devices, he said.
The Sheriff’s Office has 16 body cameras, and officers who aren’t outfitted with them have in-car cameras with audio, Mueller said.
Mueller recently applied for a federal grant to upgrade the existing cameras and purchase additional ones. The cameras deputies are currently using don’t have enough space to store necessary footage and the battery life isn’t very long, Mueller said.
“We’re going to ask for about $130,000 and we’re hoping we get some of that,” Mueller said. “If we don’t get the funding, council may elect to buy a portion or all of it.”
Since Cherokee County’s body camera policy has been approved by the South Carolina Criminal Justice Association, the state will reimburse the county if the council does end up buying the cameras, Mueller said.
The Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Office purchased body cameras in the summer of 2014.
Uniform patrol, warrants and traffic deputies are equipped with the cameras, Lt. Kevin Bobo said. Narcotics deputies and detectives don’t have cameras. All total, the Sheriff’s Office has between 160 to 180 cameras in place, Bobo said.
Bobo said the Sheriff’s Office purchased the cameras using a federal technology grant, and the manufacturer has already upgraded the cameras.
Union County Sheriff David Taylor said all of his deputies are now outfitted with body cameras. The county paid for the cameras and was reimbursed by the state after the Union Sheriff’s Office policy was approved.
Taylor said his office has a total of 32 cameras, and all uniform patrol deputies wear them. Taylor said a few extra cameras are kept in reserve in case something happens with one of the other ones.
Taylor sees the body camera law as a good thing. He said it forces officers to be more mindful of their actions when dealing with the public.
“I was always in favor of the body-worn cameras,” Taylor said. “It kind of keeps (officers) on their toes to know what they say and do is going to be out there for people to see.”