Ben­tonville school buses to get cam­eras

Sys­tems to act as de­ter­rent to mis­be­hav­ior, mo­torists

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - DAVE PEROZEK

BEN­TONVILLE — Each of the School District’s buses will be equipped with cam­eras for the first time start­ing this fall.

The cam­eras may not catch ev­ery­thing, but they cer­tainly are a de­ter­rent to mis­be­hav­ior by kids and mo­torists, said Chris DeWitt, trans­porta­tion direc­tor.

The district re­cently spent about $65,000 on 30 cam­era sys­tems from An­gelTrax, an Alabama-based maker of sur­veil­lance de­vices for ve­hi­cles. The cost of each sys­tem came out to a lit­tle less than $2,200, DeWitt told the School Board this month.

Each of those sys­tems comes with four in­ter­nal and three ex­ter­nal cam­eras. Most buses have six cam­eras, but An­gelTrax threw in a sev­enth cam­era with each of the sys­tems the district bought this year. That sev­enth cam­era can be mounted on the front wind­shield, pro­vid­ing a view of what the driver sees, DeWitt said.

Ex­ter­nal cam­eras are used to help catch driv­ers who pass a stopped bus when its red lights are flash­ing. The district re­ports six to 10 in­ci­dents each week and turns over its video ev­i­dence to the ap­pro­pri­ate po­lice de­part­ment, DeWitt said.

Gene Page, pub­lic in­for­ma­tion of­fi­cer for the Ben­tonville Po­lice De­part­ment, called the school bus cam­era a “great tool” in as­sist­ing with en­forc­ing the law. The de­part­ment’s traf­fic en­force­ment of­fi­cers re­ceive one or two re­ports per week of mo­torists il­le­gally pass­ing stopped buses, he said.

“We con­duct an in­ves­ti­ga­tion and 50 per­cent of the re­ceived in­ci­dents re­sult in both lo­cat­ing the of­fender and is­su­ing ci­ta­tions,” Page said. “It has been a great part­ner­ship be­tween our two de­part­ments.”

On April 26, 2016, school bus driv­ers in 100 Arkansas school dis­tricts counted the num­ber of in­stances of mo­torists il­le­gally pass­ing them. They re­ported 706 such of­fenses, ac­cord­ing to the Arkansas De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion.

Bus cam­era footage can be use­ful in other types of crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tions, too.

Po­lice re­ceived a re­port in May 2016 of a man ex­pos­ing him­self to chil­dren on a Ben­tonville street. The sus­pect was caught on tape by an ex­ter­nal cam­era on one of the buses, DeWitt said.

The district owns about 150 buses. It had more than 10,000 stu­dents reg­is­tered for bus trans­porta­tion as of last month. In ad­di­tion, district buses were used for 178 field trips cov­er­ing 18,000 miles in May alone, ac­cord­ing to a re­port from the trans­porta­tion de­part­ment.

DeWitt es­ti­mated be­tween 65 per­cent and 70 per­cent of the district’s buses were equipped with cam­eras by last sum­mer. Other peer dis­tricts in the area — Rogers, Spring­dale and Fayet­teville — re­ported all of their buses had cam­eras.

Melissa Martin was a des­ig­nated sub­sti­tute driver this past school year in Ben­tonville. She said she loves driv­ing with cam­eras on board.

The cam­eras help her if she’s hav­ing dis­ci­pline prob­lems, pro­tect the chil­dren and also pro­tect her in case her per­for­mance or con­duct is ever crit­i­cized, she said.

“If there are any ques­tions as far as how I’m per­form­ing as a driver, the su­per­vi­sors can check and see what’s go­ing on and help with sug­ges­tions on how to be­come a bet­ter driver or han­dle cer­tain stu­dents,” Martin said.

Stu­dents seem to like them too, she said.

“They know they’re be­ing watched,” Martin said.

Cam­eras might come in handy as school dis­tricts com­bat bul­ly­ing. A 2010 sur­vey by the Na­tional Ed­u­ca­tion Association found 40 per­cent of bus driv­ers in­di­cated a stu­dent had re­ported bul­ly­ing to them within the past month; 21 per­cent said a par­ent had re­ported bul­ly­ing to them.

Ben­tonville’s cam­eras of­fer a high-def­i­ni­tion pic­ture. A per­son can zoom in on a spe­cific por­tion of a video, DeWitt said.

Videos are recorded onto a hard drive and a me­mory card on each bus. They hold be­tween two and three weeks’ worth of record­ings at a time, DeWitt said.

Cam­eras turn on when the bus is started, and re­main on for about 10 min­utes af­ter the ig­ni­tion is turned off.

“We en­cour­age [driv­ers] to turn the buses off when they get to the schools,” DeWitt said. “We want to get all the kids as they load, too, so if you have [the cam­eras] shut off with the ig­ni­tion, you miss all that.”

The trans­porta­tion de­part­ment re­lies on driv­ers to re­port bro­ken or dis­abled cam­eras on their buses, but the de­part­ment also in­spects each bus about once ev­ery 90 days. Cam­eras are part of those in­spec­tions, DeWitt said.

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