LC City Council supports school bus camera enforcement

By Lee Peck - bio | email

LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - "We've been fortunate that we have not had anyone killed," said Gary Anderson, Calcasieu Parish School Board Assistant Superintendent of Schools.

Like he's done before other cities around the parish, Anderson explains something has to be done before one of our students is killed from a driver running past a school bus.

"We're looking at over possibly 500 violations a day," said Anderson.

That estimate is based on a survey of the parishes 335 school bus drivers. But most violators, if not all, get away. That's why the school board has turned to private company Ongo. At no cost to the school board, Ongo will equip the bus stop arms with cameras.

"When that stop sign goes out the cameras become activated at that point. They can video it's a line of video of anybody entering that zone and leaving that zone," explained Anderson.

Once caught on camera Ongo would send the video clip to the Calcasieu Sheriff's Office for review. The sheriff's office has the final say on if a citation is issued.  First offense costs 300 dollars and goes up to one thousand dollars for third offense. The school board would not collect any of the money. Ongo would get 75% of the fine, leaving the sheriff's office 25%.

"I still think this is too much for a private company to be getting compared to what the company is getting and what is staying locally," said Councilwoman Lurvertha August.

But like the school board, the sheriff's office says they are not in it for the revenue, but to get a handle on the problem and keep children safe.

"This is one issue that we have not been able to solve. We have tried so many things and the stakes or so high... We have to endorse this program," said Commander James McGee with the Calcasieu Parish Sheriff's Office.

Once a ticket is issued CPSB Attorney Keith Prudhomme explains, "the registered owner has 30 days within which to satisfy the citation or appeal. The driver will also be able to review the video."

Satisfied the council approved allowing the sheriff's office to enforce the ordinance inside city limits. But before they can start writing tickets there will be a thirty day trial period with 9 cameras. Once rolled out: up to 25% of the buses will be armed with cameras.

"We will have the ability to move those buses, wherever there is a hot spot, wherever there is a need for it. In most cases high traffic areas," said Anderson.

The trial period won't start until the school board gets all of the parish municipalities to agree. Lake Charles becomes the fourth of six municipalities to support it. Officials say they expect Iowa and Westlake to back the ordinance in coming weeks as well. Once that happens it goes back before the Calcasieu Parish Police Jury.

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