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May 16, 2013

Council approves cameras on school buses

GREENVILLE — The Greenville City Council voted Tuesday to create an ordinance which helps pave the way for cameras to be added to local school buses.

Greenville Police Chief Daniel J. Busken said the cameras, to be mounted on the “stop arms” on the buses, are designed to catch those drivers illegally passing the buses, noting the program would be implemented “with no negative financial impact to the city.”

Council members Jeff Dailey and James Evans said they were opposed to the measure.

“I see this as more of a revenue generator than for the actual safety of the children,” Evans said. “I’ve got issues with red light cameras in general.”

Dailey objected to how the ordinance would be enforced, as the potential penalty for violating the ordinance — a citation issued through the mail to the owner of the vehicle — would differ from what would be assessed if a police officer observed the violation in person and wrote the driver a ticket.

“It would take that offense and make it a civil offense,” Dailey said. “It is the lowest standard in the law. It is a civil judgment is what it is.”

The Council was scheduled to consider a “Photographic Enforcement and Administrative Adjudication of School Bus Stop Arm Violations” ordinance during Tuesday’s meeting.

City Attorney Daniel W. Ray and the Greenville Police Department have been working with the Greenville Independent School and the Dallas County Schools District on a cooperative effort to add cameras to Greenville ISD school buses.

The program would add cameras to the buses that would be remotely monitored by people working with the Dallas County Schools District. If a potential violation is confirmed by that office, the video from multiple different cameras would be forwarded to a Greenville Police officer to review. The officer could then approve a citation to be sent to the owner of the vehicle as determined by the license plate number and registration records.

The proposed ordinance sets a $300 fine for illegally passing a school bus in the city limits, creates a position of “hearing officer” that would hear any appeals in the Municipal Court, and creates an appeal process whereby a defendant can appeal a ruling to the Municipal Court Judge. The City of Greenville would receive 12.5 percent of all fines collected.

“I just have an issue with (bus) drivers being able to flip a lever ... and issue a $300 traffic ticket for the City of Greenville,” Evans said.

Ray explained that there are “at least three stop gaps” included under the program, designed to safeguard the rights of those receiving the citations.

“We want this to be a reasonable ticket which is sent to those people who are actually breaking the law,” Ray said.

“This is something the school district brought to the police department and had identified as a problem for the district,” Busken said, adding the program also has a goal of increasing awareness and in turn reducing the number of violations.

Council members Dan Perkins and Renee Francey observed videos from a local pilot program which revealed just how serious a problem it is.

“It is quite blatant and quite frequent,” Perkins said.

“People were passing the bus on the sidewalks,” Francey said.

“We don’t have enough police to follow them,” Perkins continued. “It is a very clear and very present danger for our children who ride buses.”

Dailey believes the ordinance also removes a standard of reasonable doubt for those who receive the citations.

“We are going to make it much, much easier to convict you, and that’s not right,” Dailey said.

The measure passed by a 5-2 vote, with Dailey and Evans against.

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