Equipping field personnel with smartphones can increase situational awareness, expand capabilities and enhance community engagement. Smartphones can even serve as effective body-worn cameras (BWC) and deliver a level of utility that far exceeds single-purpose devices.

When Chief Todd Lemoine of the Kimberling City Police Department (KCPD) in Missouri was looking for the best BWC option for his agency, he learned about Visual Labs, a company known as the “body-worn camera company that doesn’t make cameras.” Lemoine’s quest for BWC capability resulted in something much more beneficial to his agency: the equipping of all officers with smartphones, resulting in improved operational efficiency and greater access to mission-essential information. The smartphone that is now carried by KCPD officers is Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3.

Smartphone as camera

Lemoine has been in public safety for more than 30 years and took on the chief’s job at KCPD in December 2021 after retiring as a captain at the St. Bernard Parish Sheriff’s Department in Louisiana. He’s no stranger to technology. “Early in my career, I started fixing computers and even opened up a retail store,” Lemoine said. “That expanded to working with wireless carriers and providing smartphones. I did that for 25 years.”

As Lemoine was conducting his due diligence effort to determine the best BWC solution for his agency, he learned about the approach used by Visual Labs. In short, the company delivers a connected, all-in-one solution using an off-the-shelf Android smartphone combined with powerful, purpose-built software. The fact that officers could have both BWC capability and the utility of a smartphone was compelling. Lemoine did have one specific request regarding the smartphone that would be used — he wanted to utilize Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3.

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Although Visual Labs had dozens of customer agencies using Samsung smartphones, this was the first time a department had specifically asked to use Z Flip3. However, Visual Labs is known for being innovative and listening to its customers. Engineering tests were conducted, and a trial was set up to allow for field testing by the officers. Ultimately, Z Flip3 demonstrated its ability to meet the rigors of field work, and all KCPD officers, including Chief Lemoine, are now using the Z Flip3 smartphone configured with Visual Labs body camera software.

Small device profile works for KCPD

Lemoine says he felt the smaller profile of Z Flip3 was better suited to the agency’s needs, and he liked the device’s overall design. After several months of experience using Z Flip3 phones in the field, Lemoine feels like the concept of using the duty smartphone as a BWC has been a winner for his agency and the Z Flip3 smartphone has clearly demonstrated its capability.

“I really like that it’s small enough to clip on my shirt, and it works well with both a polo and regular uniform,” said Lemoine. “It can be easily removed to use in a regular handheld mode as a smartphone. And it has a dual display that makes it easy for the officer to glance at a message or caller ID without having to remove or open the device,” he said.

The foldable Z Flip3s have proven their value through the sheer utility they provide to the organization, according to Lemoine. “We use the Active Alert app that interacts with our CAD [computer-aided dispatch] and sends dispatch alerts, notes who is responding, and provides routing to take us directly to a call,” he explained. “Officers can access their city email and review a report from our RMS [records management system]. I like to use One Note continuously for documentation and scheduling. Every Monday, I do a push to the officers of training and leadership items.”

Lemoine shared that he has a Samsung Galaxy Watch4 and has found that it pairs nicely with Z Flip3 and the Visual Labs software, providing an additional means of starting and stopping the recording function. “I’m a tech guy, and overall, I’ve been impressed with both the Z Flip3 and the Visual Labs software,” he said.

Cloud storage eliminates challenges

Ease of use along with the power and features of the cloud storage used by Visual Labs has been invaluable to the agency, according to Lemoine. “I really like the way that Visual Labs allows for easy sharing of videos. With our current [legacy] in-car camera system, videos have to be downloaded and categorized at the station. It’s very time-consuming, and making copies for the court is cumbersome. With Visual Labs, it’s much quicker and easier because of the cloud storage.” Lemoine said he is hopeful that the agency will be able to replace the existing in-car system with one from Visual Labs.

Situational awareness and officer safety have been improved as a result of using the Z Flip3 devices and Visual Labs. “The location of every on-duty officer can be seen at a glance and that’s key for officer safety,” Lemoine said. “And if they don’t respond to the radio, I can easily check a live-camera feed from their body camera. I’ve done that a number of times.”

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Lemoine said the software provided by Visual Labs is easy to use and features like area searches and geofencing are both useful and easily accomplished. One example he provided was a query by a city official regarding a request for extra patrol of a house during the owner’s extended absence. The inference was that the department had not followed through on the request. Within minutes, Lemoine was able to use the Visual Labs software and check the relevant location and dates. The query proved that officers had been by the house 27 times during the period in question. “There have been plenty of occasions where the [software] capabilities have just proven to be awesome,” he said.

Learn more about another agency using Samsung smartphones as body cameras with the Visual Labs solution. To learn more about rolling out an effective smartphone program for your agency, download our free guide.

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Dale Stockton

Dale Stockton is a 32-year-veteran of law enforcement, having worked in all areas of police operations and retiring as a police captain from Carlsbad, California. He taught criminal justice classes for more than 20 years and is the former Editor-in-Chief of Law Officer Magazine and LawOfficer.com. Stockton is the founder of Below 100, an award-winning officer-safety initiative designed to reduce police line-of-duty deaths and has been involved in the presentation of the program across North America. Stockton is an accomplished technology practitioner and has managed major technology projects for public safety including personnel-locate devices and license plate recognition systems.

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