New SC law creates police standards; regulates chokeholds, no-knock warrants, body cameras

·3 min read
Tracy Glantz/tglantz@thestate.com

A new South Carolina law will ban police from performing chokeholds in most cases, create guidelines for using “no-knock” warrants and require body cameras.

Gov. Henry McMaster signed the police standards bill into law on Monday, but most of the standards won’t take effect until January 2023 as a council of law enforcement leaders craft the specific policies that police agencies will have to adopt.

The bill that eventually became the new law was filed at the end of 2020 following the high profile police killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky, which sparked massive, nationwide protests and calls for police reform and defunding. Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis officer kneeling on his neck. An officer shot Taylor while a police team executed a “no-knock” warrant.

The law will require police agencies to:

eliminate chokeholds except in life-or-death situations

create standards for using “no-knock” warrants

standardize use of body cameras

have a ”duty to intervene” for officers when they see another officer breaking the law or policy

create “an early warning system” to identify officers who are likely to abuse their power and violate people’s civil rights.

utilize a publicly available system for people to file complaints against an agency or officer

establish when officers can use force and how much force they can use

require field training after basic police training

establish when officers can pursue a vehicle and when they can shoot at a moving vehicle

create hiring and firing practices

Before the new law, police agencies in South Carolina were not required to have any standards of practice, meaning it’s up to each of the nearly 300 agencies in the state to create as few or as many rules as those agencies like. While a South Carolina county sheriff’s office may have a policy manual of hundreds of pages that guides the office and its deputies, a local police department could not have a manual at all, leaving critical police practices without standards.

A compliance division is created by the law to ensure agencies are adhering to the new standards. If agencies don’t adhere, they risk fines or having all their officers’ policing certifications suspended, meaning they couldn’t act as police officers.

The law changes how police operate in South Carolina in other ways that go into effect immediately or by July 1.

Newly hired officers who haven’t been trained by the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy cannot patrol alone. They have to be with a trained officer. Until now, those officers could begin patrolling before attending the criminal justice academy.

Under the new law, officers could be charged with misconduct if they don’t intervene when another officer is abusing someone or breaking the law. They could also be charged if they don’t promptly report abuse or law breaking.

Another long-standing issue effecting policing is solved by the law.

Police agencies have to prosecute officers who are reported for misconduct. That prosecution happens at an administrative hearing before a tribunal of police leaders who decide if the accused officer will be stripped of police certification.

Before the new law, police agencies could fire an officer for misconduct but not show up for the administrative hearing on that misconduct allegation. If the agency didn’t show up, the tribunal usually had no evidence to justify taking the officer’s policing certification even if substantial evidence existed of the misconduct.

Officers will now be required to sign a pledge to practice “ethical policing.”

The law defines ethical policing as being without misconduct, conforming to the standards of the new law, and safeguarding life. The section on ethical policing emphasizes officers’ duty to intervene when another officer breaks the law or violates policy.

The final version of the bill passed the Senate unanimously and the House by a vote of 103 to 4.

The bill was introduced by state Reps. Dennis Moss, R-Cherokee; Sandy McGarry, R-Lancaster; Chris Wooten, R-Lexington; Bill Hixon, R-Aiken; Shannon Erickson, R-Beaufort; and Jeff Bradley, R-Beaufort.

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