Bentonville school buses to get cameras
Systems to act as deterrent to misbehavior, motorists
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.