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FirstNet-Certified Visual Labs Turns Phones into Body Cams

With the privacy and bandwidth afforded by FirstNet, the San Francisco Bay Area software company hopes to create an alternative to body cameras by replacing them with equally secure and more versatile smartphones.

With the recent endorsement of a FirstNet certification, San Francisco Bay Area software company Visual Labs is making a case for the potential of smartphones to double as body cameras.

Founded in 2014, the company is touting recent media coverage and new contracts in the wake of becoming certified in May by the First Responder Network Authority, an organization that oversees the designated broadband network for public-safety officials. Now part of the FirstNet App Catalog, Visual Labs’ app passed a stringent vetting process for security, relevancy, data privacy and scalability, and stores video on the Microsoft Azure GovCloud.

Tailoring its app to law enforcement, Visual Labs aims to reduce the number of gadgets on an officer’s belt or vest by enabling a smartphone to double as a body camera, digital camera, audio recorder and personal GPS.

Chief Operating Officer Alexander Popof told Government Technology the app is hardware- and carrier-agnostic, compatible with any smartphone that uses Google’s Android operating system, and also eliminates the need for body camera docking stations.

Visual Labs is not the only company to use software to turn smartphones into body cameras — Callyo launched 10-21 Video two years ago, limited to three-day storage, and Blueforce Development has an app called Blueforce Tactical that incorporates AI-powered facial and object recognition. But according to Popof, while Visual Labs is not the only body camera app to be sold on the FirstNet App Catalog, it's the first to complete the additional review process to become FirstNet-certified.

“Now, using FirstNet, the connectivity will be better, the bandwidth potentially is better, the priority and pre-emption for public safety will make the live streaming more reliable, and potentially faster,” he said. “That’s really a function of the FirstNet network.”

Popof said Visual Labs is marketing its app to law enforcement departments of any size. The company’s website includes recent case studies with two departments — Fontana Police Department in California, and Washington County Sheriff’s Office in Minnesota, both covering populations of more than 200,000 citizens — citing innovation and cost savings as reasons to try the app.

A July 18 news release from Samsung also describes Visual Labs being put to use by Kit Carson County Sheriff’s Office in Colorado.

“With Samsung devices connected to the FirstNet dedicated public safety communications platform, the body camera footage captured via Visual Labs uploads automatically. Our officers don’t have to take any extra steps to connect — everything is streamlined,” said Kit Carson County Sheriff Tom Ridnour in a statement. “The combination of software and hardware has made upgrading our officer mobility solution cost-effective and simple. It has truly transformed the way we do our jobs.”

Andrew Westrope is managing editor of the Center for Digital Education. Before that, he was a staff writer for Government Technology, and previously was a reporter and editor at community newspapers. He has a bachelor’s degree in physiology from Michigan State University and lives in Northern California.