York County officers to fight crime with cameras

YORK -- The men and women who patrol York County streets are carrying a new weapon: They will snap pictures and shoot videos to give jurors evidence they can see to put domestic violence batterers in jail.

"It doesn't matter how articulate an officer may be, there's no way anyone can truly communicate to a court or jury what they actually saw at a crime scene," York County Sheriff Bruce Bryant said during a press conference held Wednesday. "Photographs speak."

The 16th Circuit Solicitor's Office purchased 200 digital cameras for patrol officers in York and Union counties, as well as other municipalities, excluding Rock Hill, where officials already had purchased digital cameras, Solicitor Kevin Brackett said.

"It concerned me that the patrol didn't have access to digital cameras," Brackett said. "We are trying to get out in front of the issue and make sure law enforcement has all the tools they need."

Patrol officers in York County -- meaning sheriff's deputies and officers from all municipal police departments except Rock Hill -- received 159 digital cameras that can store up to 900 photographs and capture short video clips, as well as camera bags and rechargeable batteries, Brackett said. Those officers are receiving training this week from a professional crime scene photographer, he said.

Forty-one cameras will be used in Union County, he said.

The cameras, which cost nearly $25,000, were funded by federal grant money and state funds earmarked for establishing a domestic violence unit in York County. The cameras also will be used to document other criminal activities, officials said.

Brackett said lack of pictures caused prosecutors to lose some domestic violence court cases.

"We were not bringing to the jury everything we could," Brackett said. "Jurors want to see as much evidence as possible. We frequently did not have photographs."

Some victims also hampered their chances of getting justice, Brackett said.

"The victim is intimidated by her abuser, comes to court and doesn't want to cooperate," Brackett explained. "They will minimize the extent of their injuries or claim they were the aggressor. Photographs can help establish the extent of injuries.

"This (digital cameras) can be a valuable tool to record the victim while she's under the influence of the event," Brackett added. "She's going to be distraught. That's powerful evidence that a jury needs to see."

The York County Coroner's Office has been using digital cameras since 2006, interim coroner Sabrina Gast said.

"It's invaluable for our office to go back and look at injuries caused by previous assaults," Gast said. "Putting cameras in hand is a proactive step to preventing domestic violence fatalities in our county."