The viral cellphone video showing a police officer fatally shooting Walter Scott, an unarmed black man, in Sen. Tim Scott’s South Carolina hometown spurred the GOP’s sole black senator to introduce police body camera legislation Tuesday.
Scott’s bill would send $100 million a year in federal funds to local and state police departments to outfit officers with body cameras in an attempt to limit the use of lethal force and bring clarity to instances where force may be justified.
“Across our nation, too often we are seeing a lack of trust between communities and law enforcement lead to tragedy,” Scott said in a statement, calling the use of body cameras an “important step” to restoring trust amidst growing divide.
Scott said the cameras would alter behavior, citing a study finding that public complaints against officers wearing body cameras dropped nearly 90 percent and officers’ use of force fell by 60 percent.
“We have seen that body-worn cameras can keep both officers and citizens safer, and that video can help provide clarity following an altercation,” Scott said. “If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video is worth a thousand pictures.”
Walter Scott’s death, which was captured on a shaky video by a man who was walking to work at the time of the shooting, drove the senator to call a hearing in May to discuss the use of body cameras. Scott called the cellphone footage “critical” in convicting the officer who killed Walter Scott.
Scott furthered his push following Freddie Gray’s death in police custody, which sparked violent riots across Baltimore, saying police body cameras would have shown “exactly what happened” to Gray.
“We should always have as much evidence from the scene as possible. Body cameras provide us the opportunity to gather that information real time and to store it, to use it in criminal investigations and I think today, we have a different outcome,” he told CNN following the death.
Scott’s legislation would not mandate law enforcement to adopt body cameras but would provide funds to police departments that cannot afford them, giving preference to those that establish specific policies regarding the use of the cameras.
“Our goal is not to find a way to nationalize local law enforcement, but to do the exact opposite,” he told reporters.
The cost of his bill, called the Safer Officers and Safer Citizens Act, would be offset by limiting paid administrative leave for federal employees to 20 days a year.
Scott’s legislation marks another notch in the growing bipartisan movement to overhaul the U.S.’s criminal justice system through sentencing and policing reforms.
But Scott warned against a comprehensive approach—which both houses of Congress have moved toward—saying legislation should instead be taken up individually.
“I think my body camera legislation is [a] winner,” he told Politico on the eve of his announcement. “I should think that though, right?”