Former Air Force Engineer Creates App That Turns Smartphones Into Bodycams

NBC Universal, Inc.

As a Black father with two young sons, it’s the names that James Samuel Jr. constantly comes back to: Ronald Greene, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor.

But it was George Floyd's death last year that led Samuel, a former Air Force engineer and fighter pilot, to lead a team of minority software developers to create ANJEL Tech, an app he says can turn your smartphone into the world’s most powerful bodycam.

"We're designed to protect and save lives; that’s what the app is all about," Samuel said.

Samuel showed the app's features during a demonstration: With a press of a button, his phone began livestreaming video and sending multiple alerts to his specified contacts.

"There's the first notification from the app; then there will be another notification — that’s a text that comes out right there. So now the text is out, and there's a third notification that's an email. So my users, my viewers, all just got this stream," he said.

The app also sends his location.

Almost immediately, a family member with no prior knowledge of the demonstration checked in.

"My brother just said, 'You OK?'" Samuel relayed.

The video is automatically stored in the cloud.

Samuel says that eliminates the often arduous process of getting law enforcement to release body cam video. 

"If anything happens to you or your phone, that record still exists," Samuel said. "They can access it at any time, and that way, it’s like your own personal body camera."

Samuel said the nearly two-year fight for the release of body camera footage of Greene's death while in police custody in Louisiana shows why the app is necessary.

"They're agonizing and they’re grieving that whole time; 'What happened to my loved one?'" he said.

And Samuel says the app can be discreetly used in a number of situations, such as domestic abuse and violence, campus security and elder abuse.

On the one year anniversary of George Floyd's death, Minneapolis activists are still fighting for policy changes they say will help prevent another death due to excessive police force. And they’ve recently moved one step closer to their most ambitious goal — reforming the city charter to replace its police department with a department of public safely. NBCLX storyteller Jalyn Henderson reports from Minneapolis.

With the app now fully available, Samuel says the feedback from subscribers has been positive, albeit disheartening. 

"Sad it’s needed but glad it’s available," one user wrote.

"It's agonizing that we still need to keep these technologies to help us stay alive and to stay safe and stay aware," Samuel said.

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