EDITORIAL: Transparency Is Under the Rug

Police across South Carolina and America have spent millions of dollars on officer body cameras. But The New York Times just reported that a rigorous study released last week shows that these cameras have almost no effect on officer behavior.

The 18-month study of more than 2,000 police officers in Washington found that officers equipped with cameras used force and prompted civilian complaints at about the same rate as those who did not have them, the Times reported.

They reported that “Though body cameras are now in greater use, their purpose is often left undefined, raising thorny questions about surveillance, privacy and other issues. Police departments have been rushing to body cameras without sufficiently deciding what the goal is,” said Seth Stoughton, a former officer and a law professor at the University of South Carolina, who has studied the devices extensively. 

“When no one is sure what it is supposed to do, no one knows if it is working.”

In South Carolina, videos from body cameras are exempt from release under the Freedom of Information Act. Our Legislature carved out an exemption by saying they are not public records.

Excuse me, but they should be open in certain cases.

I see the privacy concerns, but in instances of the use of force by police officers, the prompt public release of these videos would go a long way in building public trust of police.

The Times ended its story: “But the original purpose of cameras — transparency and accountability — could ultimately get swept under the rug.”

In South Carolina, transparency is already under the rug.

--By Bill Rogers, executive director, SC Press Association

 

Speaking of the police ...

 

Well, Sheriff’s Office, actually. It is a shame that no one is going to be held criminally negligent for the way evidence used to be stored at the Laurens County Sheriff’s Office.

Knowing that he had to, because his officers couldn’t work in an environment like that, Sheriff Don Reynolds got the mess cleared up. It took a massive effort by the State Law Enforcement Division, conducting a forensic audit, to straighten everything out, and get the evidence where it could best serve prosecution.

Photos of what SLED agents found, at the old Laurens County Jail and elsewhere, are on our website: MyClintonNews.com. Find Breaking News in the navigation bar, go to the second page, and find the article. Included with this display of photos is a link to our previous coverage of this massive mess; linked there is a PDF of the complete SLED report.

It makes for disturbing reading. Anyway, it’s all behind us now - no harm, no foul. Past and present sheriffs here and in Greenville County have had and currently have much worse messes to deal with, we suppose.

The argument could be advanced, “Hey, what do you want? Deputies on the street, or deputies filling out evidence tags?”

Our answer, “Yes.”

Because without air-tight evidence, criminals walk. We can’t even imagine why people who’ve had brushes with the Sheriff’s Office aren’t clamoring to get their guns back. Confiscated guns were just lying all around, where just anybody could take their pick. Money is missing from at least one drug case, that’s enough for a mistrial and maybe a directed verdict of “not guilty” right there.

SLED is not required to release full case files until a matter is closed. The fact that we got their report - the full case file runs 3,000 pages - is a sign that this matter will go no further. The evidence room is straight, people who got guns without a paper trail have given them back - well, mostly, there are seven missing, the report says. It also says the former sheriff administration says marijuana was burned, but there is no paperwork showing when and where that happened. 

The mess has been straightened out, apparently and thankfully, within the current sheriff administration. All we’re left with is the nagging feeling that, for a time right under our noses, something was really, really wrong.

 

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P.O. Box 180
513 North Broad St.
Clinton, SC 29325
Phone: (864) 833-1900
Fax: (864) 833-1902

 

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