Danville installs video monitors on buses

August 22, 2003|HERB BROCK

Quince Arnold has been driving school buses in the Danville district for nearly three decades, and he says the behavior of his passengers this school year has been as good as he's seen it.

"We've only been back to school for a few days, but so far I can tell a big difference in the way the kids are behaving. It may be the best it's ever been," said the veteran bus driver.

Has Arnold cracked a verbal whip?

"No, it's nothing I've done. I'm acting and driving like I always do," he said. "That is the reason."

Arnold pointed to a little video camera mounted above the driver's seat near the front of the bus. The camera captures all the sights and sounds, except for anything going on low in the back and front seats.

Money comes from Safe Schools grant fund

The video-audio cameras, already in use in buses in several other area school districts, have been mounted in eight of Danville's 13 buses. The cameras are Silent Witness Bus Monitoring Systems, and they each cost $1,000 to purchase and install, with the money coming from the Kentucky Department of Education's Safe Schools grant fund, according to Danville Director of Pupil Personnel Chuck Stallard.


"The cameras give us an extra set of eyes," said Stallard, whose job includes overseeing the district's transportation services.

The cameras aren't meant to be spies or "Big Brother," he insisted. "They're about safety. Bad behavior not only could harm other children but it could distract the driver. And if a driver has poor driving habits, that obviously has an affect on safety.

"The cameras monitor behavior and pick up almost everything that is said by the more than 1,000 kids that ride the eight buses with the cameras," he said.

Also, the tape starts rolling automatically when the bus is started, and it remains on 10-15 minutes after the bus is turned off, Stallard said.

If a driver files a report complaining that a child is constantly misbehaving, and parents challenge the complaint, the tape "should be able to identify the child in question and show whether or not there has been misbehavior," said Stallard.

The tapes also would be helpful in cases when a child claims another child is harassing him and discovering if purses, jackets or other belongings that have been reported lost or missing were left on the bus.

Behavior of drivers also captured

The behavior of the drivers also is captured on the tapes, Stallard stressed.

"Our drivers are great, but things can happen," he said. "If a child or parent reports problems with drivers, such as the way they talk to the kids, the way they drive or other issues, we can check the tapes to see what actually happened."

And one of the biggest nightmares for drivers and parents and alike - a child being left on a bus - can be easily substantiated by tapes, Stallard said.

"With the cameras, we can tell not only if the child reported to have been left on the bus or missing is or was there, but how long they were there and what their condition was throughout," he said.

In addition, the tapes also record the speed of the bus and when left and right turn signals and warning lights are operated, said Stallard.

"When we have an accident, a complaint about a driver speeding or some other traffic-related issue to investigate, the tape will provide valuable information to help us determine what happened," he said.

When tapes are full, they are placed by each bus driver in a locked box at the front of the bus. Stallard is the only person who has the keys to open the boxes and only he, assistant transportation director E.G. Plummer and the drivers are permitted to view the tapes. Parents are not allowed to see the tapes.

"We don't watch every tape, every day. We only watch tapes if an issue about a child or a driver is raised," said Stallard.

The monitoring system isn't "fool-proof," the DPP admitted.

Stallard said that poor lighting in the dark morning hours of late fall through early spring greatly reduces picture quality, although all sounds still are captured.

The reaction to the cameras has been generally positive so far, he said.

"We included information about the cameras in our student handbook and disseminated it through each of our schools," Stallard said. "Some kids have been a little unhappy, but most kids and their parents understand the main goal of the monitoring system is the safety of the children and the drivers as well."

Harrodsburg already has cameras

Danville joins several other area school districts in installing the cameras, including Harrodsburg.

"We've had the cameras in our buses for 10 years, and we've found them to be very helpful," said Larry Cotton, Harrodsburg's director of pupil personnel.

At first, the district installed only one real camera in a bus and fake cameras in the other buses," Cotton said.

"We wanted to see if the camera worked before spending a lot of money for cameras for all our buses," he said. "We would rotate our one real camera from bus to bus. Over the last few years, we've installed real cameras in every bus.

"We've had these cameras for years and everybody knows about them but some kids still don't like the idea of cameras, saying it invades their privacy," Cotton said. "But most understand they're there for the kids' own safety, and even a few have fun with them, especially during the first few days of school each year."

Arnold has witnessed that "fun" for the first time the last couple of weeks.

"A lot of the kids, especially the younger ones, wave and mug at the cameras and say silly stuff," said Arnold. "But a lot of the kids who do that believe the cameras are fake.

"I tell the kids that if they do something naughtier than just waving at the camera, they'll find out soon just how real it is."

Central Kentucky News Articles