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School bus camera

Lake Central schools already are using cameras on the side of school buses to record motorists who fail to stop for children loading or unloading from the bus when the stop arm is extended. An Indiana Senate committee on Wednesday unanimously approved a plan to make stop arm enforcement cameras available statewide.

ST. JOHN — Security cameras and monitors have become as much a part of the education ambiance as textbooks, teachers and football games.

The Lake Central School Corp. is an example of how the use of cameras in the schools has grown almost exponentially in the past decade as a result of shootings from Columbine to Parkland and everywhere in between.

Lake Central Technology Director Rick Moreno said 10 or 12 years ago, the high school had about 10 cameras to monitor activities inside and outside the building. That had increased to about 180 two years ago when the district decided to upgrade it to more than 300.

Some cameras have fisheye lenses to sweep a larger area, which Moreno said is like having three cameras at those locations. The cameras used to have one megabyte of storage and now have four or five. The middle schools now have about 75 cameras, while the elementary schools are equipped with cameras at the main entrances.

“We want to track someone walking through the high school, and, if they are carrying something, we want to follow that through the building,” Moreno said. “We want to cover as much as we can and cover every area that needs to be covered.”

In the past, the principal might check the monitors once in a while to see what might be going on. Now the schools have police officers in the building every day who can keep better track of all the activities anywhere in the school. The size of the high school makes the cameras a necessity for keeping an eye on things.

Moreno said the first cameras were low resolution and placed at only a few locations. The increased number of cameras has made it more difficult for the software to store all the information, and glitches are occurring occasionally in which videos are lost because the computer had to restart.

To correct that problem and make it easier to store up to 60 days of video from each camera, Moreno is getting information on the equipment needed to upgrade the system. Moreno said he called other districts of similar size around the state and found they were having the same problems.

Even with more than 300 cameras, Moreno said there still are places where 100 to 150 could be added inside and outside the high school. He hopes to have the equipment installed in 45 to 60 days. He said it will take another week or two of fine-tuning to get everything operating the way they want.

Superintendent Larry Veracco said, “Businesses, airports and higher education have increased the use of security cameras to deter and investigate issues. We have felt the need to incorporate cameras as one of the many tools to address security. The best tool is still the presence of staff members, and, at time, parts of the school are only minimally populated. At these times the cameras do support our security goals.”

Lake Central also is close to adding cameras to the stop arms on all its buses to make it easier for police to ticket people who ignore the arms and the flashing lights and pass the buses when students are getting on or off. Transportation Director Christian Flores said cameras were mounted on one bus to test it, and it has proven to be a good investment.

“We’ve had it for about three weeks, and we’ve had five violations on that bus,” Flores said.

One of the violations was on a four-lane road, and the vehicle was too far away to identify it. The other four were turned over to the St. John Police and the individuals were ticketed.

The Indiana General Assembly is considering legislation that would impose hefty fines ranging from $300 to $1,000 for such violations, with part of the money going to the school district.

Flores said he hopes to make a presentation to the School Board soon for the purchase of enough cameras to equip six to 10 buses on routes that have had the most problems with violations. However, Veracco said the decision has already been made to install them on all 100 buses as soon as they determine a funding source and devise the schedule for installing them in-house.

The cameras being considered scan forward and backward and cost about $700 each. Flores said the cameras are a major improvement over having the bus drivers try to gather enough information to give the police so the violators can be cited.

"They have to fill out a form for police and include the make and model of the car and the color, a description of the driver and provide the license plate. The drivers' top priority is making sure the kids are boarding and getting off safely, and they are not really able to watch the cars, so this is a good tool.

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