In an effort to upgrade security measures, the Warwick School Department had cameras installed in its buildings throughout the district. Cameras on school buses could be the next step, but for a different reason.
Following a presentation given to the School Committee last Tuesday by Dana Meinke of Student Guardian, a company that provides a school bus stop-arm violation enforcement mechanism through the installation of cameras in an effort to crack down on motorists who willingly violate the law by passing buses when the stop-arm is out, committee chairwoman Beth Furtado said it’s something she supports.
“When it comes to the safety of the children, it doesn’t make sense not to do it, especially since there’s no cost to the district or municipality,” Furtado said during a phone interview yesterday.
Furtado explained that the committee wasn’t voting on whether or not to approve the program for the district at Tuesday’s meeting, but rather just listening to a presentation to learn about the service. She said it’s something that would need to put on the agenda for a future meeting to be considered.
“It’s definitely something I support and encourage and would arrange to have put on a future School Committee meeting agenda,” she said.
During the presentation, Meinke said Student Guardian, which was formerly known as SmartBus Live, started in Providence and now has 80 active programs in nine states throughout the country, eight of which are in Rhode Island.
“Legislation was passed by the General Assembly in 2008 that enables photo evidence as submissible in court to prosecute violations,” Meinke said. “The photo shows the license plate of the vehicle but not the occupant. It takes a photo before and after.”
Meinke said photo and video evidence is turned over to local law enforcement officials, who are the ones that enforce the violation. She said the fine ranges from $300 to $500, but added that most tickets are written for $500 because “it’s an egregious offense that puts the safety of children at risk every day.”
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Association, 22 children are injured or killed each year while attempting to load or unload their school bus.
Meinke explained that the Student Guardian service is provided at no cost to the school district or city, as it is paid for by motorists committing the violation. She said 12.5 percent of ticket revenue goes to the state, 12.5 percent goes to the municipality and 75 percent goes to Student Guardian to offset the cost of the service.
“The vendor provides the camera and the monitoring,” she said, adding the school district must negotiate with the city in order to receive any money.
Meinke said the video camera only records when the bus is stopped and the stop-arm is out; it is not running all the time.
“The witnesses monitor for violations while the arm is out, and the cameras are off when the arm goes back in,” she said.
Committee member Eugene Nadeau expressed concerns with the program.
“Are we being watched to an extent that we’re not doing things we normally would do, for fear of being prosecuted in court for doing something that we didn’t mean or weren’t aware of,” he said.
Meinke responded, “Cameras only affect your life if you’re violating the law; and if you are, you should be prosecuted because you’re endangering the lives of kids.”
Nadeau asked Meinke where Student Guardian gets the expertise to do this.
“Our team isn’t writing the tickets,” she reiterated. “We’re giving the police the opportunity to write the tickets; they’re knowledgeable about the violations.”
Nadeau wasn’t convinced.
“There has to be a point where we’re not afraid in society,” he said.
Meinke said the cameras make it easier to prosecute violators, as prior to the cameras it was up to witnesses on the street or the bus monitor to write down the information regarding violators.
Meinke finished the presentation by saying that Student Guardian works with the bus companies to be as low impact as possible and makes every effort to work around the bus company’s schedule should maintenance be required.
Meinke said just because the district agrees to use the services of Student Guardian, doesn’t mean it is stuck with the program.
“Westerly ended the program with us because they no longer had a need for it, as the program did its job and they saw a decrease in the amount of violations,” she said.