CLINTON — The Clinton Police Department has upgraded to new body camera technology that automatically uploads video recordings, making it easier for officers to remain safe and accountable.

Clinton police Officer Roger Smith on Friday displays his new body camera, also his work-issued smartphone, attached to his vest at the Clinton Police Station. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

The new technology comes from Silicon Valley-based Visual Labs Inc. and functions as an app on a smartphone, according to Chief Stanley “Rusty” Bell.

While working, each officer has an assigned Android cellphone with the body camera app downloaded, making it easier to start and stop recordings and move them to other devices.

In many ways, the body camera app functions like most apps. When officers begin their shifts, they log in and the screen shows three options: Start video recording, take a picture and start audio recording. But unlike apps that have to be opened every time to be used, the body camera app runs continuously in the background until the officer logs out.

Thus, officers do not have to take out the smartphone and touch the screen to begin a recording. Instead, they simply push buttons on the side of the phone — without removing it from a carrier on the front of their vests — and a recording will start.

After ending video recordings, officers can tag them with relevant information, such as “Traffic Stop” or “Training.” The recordings are then uploaded automatically to the Police Department’s database, making them available to officers on their computers and those with administrative status, including Bell.

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The recordings saved to the database include video and other information, such as the location where the video was taken and the speed, if the officer was moving.

If a smartphone does not have service when a recording ends, an encrypted version is saved on the phone until it has service. The video is then uploaded  automatically.

“It gives us features that are both accountability-based and safety-based,” Bell said.

Previously, the department used basic, inexpensive cameras that anyone could buy online. They were clunky, according to Bell, and required more of a process to transfer video from a camera to a computer.

Bell said he had looked at several options for new body cameras when he came across the one on which he settled. The department received two smartphones from the company for a two-month trial. After a week, however, the town’s police officers reportedly liked the cameras and said they did not want a break between the trial period and signing up because they did not want to go back to the old system.

Bell said the Police Department received a good deal on the smartphones. When signing up for service with AT&T, the department received a credit that covered the cost of buying the phones. Now, each month the department pays $47 and $49 for the body camera data management, coming to about $1,200 a year per smartphone.

Bell said the total cost is slightly more than the price of other body camera equipment he had considered, but that equipment did not have automatic uploading or other features included in the system he selected.

“It involves the officer having to come in, dock the camera, make sure it’s charged, do all the things to move the video to where it needed to be,” Bell said. “With these (smartphones), the officers don’t need to do any of that.”

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