They’re there to serve and protect. Both for the public, and for the officers wearing them.
Tega Cay police are now equipped with body cams. Patrol officers, investigators, special operations — 26 in total — began recording June 5. The cameras automatically sync to in-car cameras, and record automatically when officers respond to an incident.
“It’s in society already,” department spokesman Maj. Dave Nelson said. “We took the opportunity. We had every intent of going to body cams for a few years. We wanted to get the right system at the right time.”
Videos will be stored on a server in-house. An IT worker in the department will maintain them. Nelson said police in his department and elsewhere have had “a lot of equipment, a lot of technology” thrown at them in recent years. Yet he hasn’t heard complaints with the transition to body cams.
“There has not been one negative comment,” Nelson said. “They’re all professional officers and they realize the changes and expectations of society. They understand.”
Body cams came into focus in recent years when officer involved shootings and other cases of law enforcement interacting with the public drew criticism in various parts of the country. When a controversial issue arises, people often want to see for themselves what happened. Footage also can be key to legal proceedings, whether officers or the public may be at fault for what happened.
Two years ago, a law passed in South Carolina requiring agencies to implement body cams according to guidelines at that point still to be determined. The law gave a year for the studying of body cams, and created a fund to pay for them. It didn’t give an exact implementation date for departments. It also stated footage wouldn’t be available by Freedom of Information Act requests, but it would be provided to defendants, lawyers, subjects of the video and others.
“We know the necessity of it and the importance of it,” Nelson said. “We’re not an agency that tries to hide anything.”
Charlie Funderburk, city manager, said the state ultimately paved the way for the equipment in Tega Cay.
“Our body cams are all being funded by the state,” he said. “We received approximately $31,000 from the state that covered the cost of the necessary server and the body cams for patrol and investigations. We have another application in now for additional body cams in the upcoming year.”
Yet it isn’t just legal protection. As they do with in-car video, police in Tega Cay can use body cam footage to see what went right or wrong in a situation, and how they can improve.
“We always use it for training,” Nelson said. “We also use it just for quality control.”
Tega Cay isn’t the first area agency to add body cams.
“We have them and the majority of them have been issued,” said Trent Faris, public information officer for the York County Sheriff’s Office. “Approximately 90 issued so far and we ordered 115. As they are set up with IT we issue them out to deputies.”
Nelson said he would like to see the cameras in Tega Cay add peace of mind. The city has been named multiple times by trade groups as the safest city in South Carolina, based on local and federal crime statistic reports. A strong relationship between department and community is a major part of his department’s success, Nelson said.
“That has been a focal point of this agency for a long time,” he said. “We serve and we protect. This is a service-oriented profession. Enforcement is just part of it.”