School bus cameras expected to generate money for city

There will soon be cameras mounted on Milford school buses to catch footage of people who illegally pass them.

City aldermen voted Monday night to enter into a contract with Redflex Guardian, a Phoenix, Az. based company that also goes by the name Student Guardian.

Dana Meinke, sales specialist for the company, said the city won’t have to pay for the system out of pocket. The three-camera system for each bus costs $15,000 and 10 buses are expected to be fitted with the cameras. The company will be paid through fines that motorists pay when they pass the buses.

On average, a motorist drives past a school bus illegally once a day, Meinke said. The state-set fine for that violation is $450.

The state gets 20% of that, or $90. The city will get 28% or $126, and Redflex will get 52%, or $234. Meinke said the city’s portion will increase once the cameras are paid for.

The company will mount the cameras, which activate when a car passes a stopped bus. That footage will be passed along to Milford police to prosecute.

School bus drivers will not have to do anything to trigger the cameras, Meinke said.

The program is being introduced here for safety reasons, but at the same time it is expected to generate revenue estimated at $50,000 a year.

“This is about public safety,” said Police Chief Keith Mello. “When the stop arm is out the motorist is supposed to stop, but that doesn’t always happen.”

Some aldermen had questions about privacy and other issues surrounding the program.

Since one of the bus-mounted cameras focuses on the car’s license plate, Board of Aldermen Chairman Philip Vetro wanted to know what would happen if one of his employees took his truck and passed a school bus.

Mello said that under state law, Vetro would be responsible for his vehicle. However, Milford police will investigate to determine who was driving the car when the violation occurred.

“It will be more labor intensive,” Mello said, but added that he believed that is the right thing to do.

Alderman Frank Smith raised the issue of civil liberties and invasion of privacy. He also thought that the city should make clear that it was signing onto the program for safety reasons, and not to increase revenue.

Chief Mello said he likes this particular system because it records the license plate and not activity within the car, thereby lessening privacy issues.  He also pointed out that there is typically a revenue side to police enforcement. Parking tickets, alarm fines and the like all generate revenue.

However, Mello said, “Revenue is not the motivator.”

On the other hand, city officials have said they would like to use revenue from the system to help pay for school resource officers.

Durham Bus Company has the city’s school bus contract.