City council OKs grant for police body cameras

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- Charleston police during Tuesday night's council meeting got the approval to buy new body cameras.

Charleston City Council approved using a federal grant to purchase 21 cameras. Still, many are worried about how they will be used.

The turnout was light, but those who did attend shared personal stories as to why the cameras are not only needed but welcome in the Holy City.

One man who lives in downtown Charleston says the body cameras would keep police from abusing their power. He says he was arrested because an officer found him breathing hard over his car.

"I was just trying to catch my breath. I was walking back from my car. I'm overweight, life happens. So I was shoved in the back of a police car, taken to Leeds Avenue after a 47-minute wait on a paddy wagon," he said.

The $30,000 grant from the Department of Justice is about taking advantage of technology to make the city's streets safer, said Councilman Aubry Alexander.

"We believe, and this was brought up to us in the Public Safety Committee, that this not only protects residents of Charleston but also protects and documents instances that happen in Charleston," said Alexander.

But the American Civil Liberties Union has concerns about privacy with the body cameras in use. ACLU officials said with certain policies in place, they would support the use of body cameras.

"There really needs to be a careful policy review. I hope it will not be rushed through. I hope other citizens and watch dog groups will get involved and will comment," said Victoria Middleton.

Another ACLU member said the cameras are like money: they can be used for good, but they can be misused as well.

A usage policy is currently being drafted. Even though the grant money was accepted, the city council still has to give its final approval for officers to use body cameras.