Agreeing with advisory panel, North Charleston police outfit 17 lieutenants with body cameras

October 5, 2017

The North Charleston Police Department said Thursday that it had outfitted its patrol lieutenants with body-worn cameras, partially adopting one of the first recommendations from a newly formed advisory board.

Members of the Citizens’ Advisory Commission on Community-Police Relations suggested a change after Lt. Richard Keys in June fatally shot a man suspected of robbing a store at gunpoint. Though criticism of how police handled the shooting was limited, observers lamented the lack of video showing the death of Lawrence Heyward Jr., 56.

While sergeants and other officers were required to wear body cameras, lieutenants who routinely work on city streets were not.

In a recent meeting, the commission’s chairman, Keon Rhodan, and Chief Eddie Driggers agreed that adding lieutenants to the list “will be mutually beneficial for the department and the citizens of North Charleston,” they said in a joint statement.

The change went into effect Monday for 17 lieutenants, police spokesman Spencer Pryor said. It did not require a new purchase, he said.

In April 2015, the agency announced a broadening of its body-camera program after one of its officers, Michael Slager, fatally shot Walter Scott during a confrontation. Slager said Scott had grabbed his Taser during a struggle, prompting the gunfire.

But the episode was captured on a bystander’s cellphone footage that called into question the officer’s account. Slager is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to a federal civil rights violation in the killing.

Also emerging from Scott’s death was the advisory commission, made up of residents appointed by City Council members. This summer, the panel started developing ideas for improving the department. Its recommendation to equip lieutenants, as well as captains, with body cameras came in late August.

The commission’s role in a push for reform has further expanded since the Department of Justice announced that it would abandon a critical review of North Charleston’s police force and others nationwide. But some have grown skeptical of its ability to affect profound change.

This week’s development was promising, said Dan O’Neal, vice chairman of the commission.

“I am very gratified that the North Charleston Police Department has agreed to equip patrol lieutenants with body cameras,” O’Neal, who sponsored the suggestion, said. “My hope is that as the budgetary situation permits, police captains will also be so equipped.”