Officers get cameras

Local law enforcement agencies are hoping a picture will be worth a thousand words in domestic violence cases.

The 16th Circuit Solicitor's Office recently bought 200 digital cameras to be used by patrol officers in York and Union Counties. Rock Hill already has digital cameras for its officers, but the new cameras will be distributed to sheriff's deputies and officers from the rest of the municipal police departments in the two counties.

Solicitor Kevin Brackett and Sheriff Bruce Bryant believe the cameras will be an invaluable tool for officers in a variety of cases, but particularly in cases of domestic assault.

"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. Photographs speak," Bryant said during a press conference last week.

It often is crucial to the outcome of domestic violence cases to document the extent of injuries to the victim at the scene. Often, as part of the pathology of domestic abuse, victims are intimidated by battering partners into not cooperating with authorities.

Victims often will minimize injuries or claim responsibility themselves for being attacked. Even with the threat of more abuse, they will lie in a courtroom about what happened.

That is where a picture can be an important tool for prosecutors. It can offer powerful evidence of serious injuries beyond the testimony of officers or victims. And those pictures can be saved as part of the court records in the event of future abuse.

The cameras, which cost nearly $25,000, were paid for by federal grant money and state funds dedicated for establishing a domestic violence unit in York County. Each of the rechargeable cameras can store up to 900 photographs and capture short video clips.

Brackett said that lack of pictures has caused prosecutors to lose some domestic violence cases. Let's hope putting cameras in the hands of cops will help prevent that from happening again.