In the wake of several violent high-profile incidents involving law enforcement and citizens in his home state and across the country, Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., on Monday unveiled a $100 million proposal to help local police agencies pay for body-worn cameras for their officers.
Scott’s bill, titled the Safer Officer and Safer Citizens Act of 2015, would provide up to $100 million in grants over five years – from federal fiscal years 2016 through 2021 – to law enforcement jurisdictions nationwide that provide a 25 percent match in the funds that they request.
“We’ve seen in the last 18 months, two years, a number of incidents around the country where had we had a video, we’d have a clear picture, or at least a more clear picture of what occurred,” Scott said Monday. “And we’ve seen the questions raised when there is no video, so I think this is the step in the right direction.”
As prerequisite for funding, Scott said local law enforcement agencies that apply for funding would have to develop policies for retaining the video captured on the body cameras and disclosure issues.
Scott crafted to the bill to ensure that local law enforcement stays “in the hands of local law enforcement.”
“Our goal is not to find a way to nationalize local law enforcement,” he said, “but to specifically do the exact opposite.”
Scott has been one of Congress’ leading proponents of body cameras. He stepped up his advocacy following the fatal shooting of Walter Scott, an unarmed African American man, by a white North Charleston police officer in April.
We’ve seen in the last 18 months,...a number of incidents around the country where had we had a video, we’d have a clear picture, or at least a more clear picture of what occurred.
Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C.
The clamor for body cameras has grown in recent months. Incidents involving controversial police behavior in Ferguson, Mo., and Staten Island in New York last summer, and in North Charleston and Baltimore this spring have intensified the effort.
In Ferguson, a white police officer shot a black teenager. In New York, Eric Garner, who was black, died after being put in what was described as a choke hold by a police officer during an arrest. And in Baltimore, the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody sparked outrage and rioting in parts of the black community.
Washington lawmakers have responded by including tens of millions of dollars for body cameras in appropriations bills that have yet to clear both chambers of Congress and reach President Barack Obama’s desk.
In May, the Justice Department embarked on a $20 million pilot program that will provide grants to as many as 50 police departments to purchase body cameras and train officers on their use.
Scott said his body camera funding bill will go through the Senate Judiciary Committee and its subcommittee on crime and terrorism, chaired by his South Carolina colleague, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham.
“We’re pushing leadership to see if they can have something before the end of the year, but there has been no commitment made to that specific date,” Scott said. “We are hoping that as this issue continues to be an issue of importance around the country that we will be able to find the momentum to create the change that we’re looking for in the calendar.”