If you live in Nassau and pass a school bus with its stop sign out and its lights on, you might get a $250 ticket, depending on the district. NewsdayTV's Shari Einhorn reports. Credit: Newsday/Staff

As the academic year is poised to start, more than half of Nassau's 56 school districts have delayed a program that uses stop-arm cameras to catch drivers who illegally pass the thousands of yellow buses set to transport students.

District leaders said the county's limited role in the initiative has resulted in a disjointed rollout. Unlike in Suffolk, where the county directly contracted with a company to install the cameras in 2021, Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman has declined to participate, leaving it in the hands of Nassau's three towns.

The Town of Hempstead has signed on, and Oyster Bay and North Hempstead are in the process. School districts in each must wait on the towns to join before they can.

“It would have been in the best interest of all 56 districts in Nassau if the county administration had taken on the ultimate responsibility of implementing the local legislation,” Jericho Superintendent Hank Grishman said.

In his district, cameras are on more than 60 buses. But they won't be turned on for the first day of school because the Town of Oyster Bay hasn't finalized a contract with the company running the program.

“The equipment is up and running, and the sooner it is live and working it will increase the safety and well-being of kids,” said Grishman, who hopes to turn the cameras on during the academic year. “We would have loved the cameras to be turned on last winter."

Christopher Boyle, Blakeman's spokesman, said in a statement: “The County Executive believes there were pluses and minuses to such a program and felt it was more appropriate for the local municipalities to make their own decision on whether or not to participate.”

While it's always been illegal to drive past a school bus with its stop arm extended, a 2019 state law allows municipalities to partner with districts to use cameras to hold violators accountable. 

The cameras capture images of the vehicles driving by — on both sides of the road — and send them to the local municipality, which mails tickets to the owners. 

The civil penalties do not add points to a driver's license but include fines of $250 for a first violation and $300 for a second violation in an 18-month period. The owners can pay the fine or contest it at Nassau County's Traffic & Parking Violations Agency.

In November, the Town of Hempstead became the first in Nassau to launch the camera program. Newsday reported more than 12,000 tickets issued in its first three months. The town did not provide updated numbers.

The county’s traffic court has adjudicated 500 cases and has 220 more on its calendar to be heard before Sept. 20, according to Boyle.    

The City of Long Beach began fining drivers on Aug. 6.

BusPatrol, an automated camera enforcement company based in Virginia, has been contracting with municipalities to issue tickets and notify drivers.

"You really have to be living under a rock to not know our program is coming to your community," said Karoon Monfared, BusPatrol president and CEO.

While the program has been touted as an important safety measure, the cameras have been met with skepticism by motorists and others concerned it's a cash grab. 

Some have said they were fined for driving opposite a bus on divided highways with physical medians. Other drivers said they were ticketed before the stop arm was fully extended, or that they never received an initial violation and lost their chance to contest the ticket.

BusPatrol, one of the country's largest school bus camera program operators, has contracts with districts across the United States and is backed by several financial firms including FIT Ventures and OakTree Capital.

Monfared said the company's mission is to "create a culture of safety and awareness around school buses," with a goal of getting 100% of children who ride them protected. 

Founded in 2017, BusPatrol purchased some of its technology from Force Multiplier Solutions, a defunct company involved in a bribery and kickback scheme in Dallas that resulted in a public bus agency's insolvency and convictions against three public officials and two Force Multiplier executives. 

BusPatrol officials have said the company is separate and independent from Force Multiplier, and that the company's assets were purchased after the bribes took place.

The towns of Oyster Bay and North Hempstead have passed resolutions authorizing the cameras but are still negotiating contracts with BusPatrol. School districts aren't able to turn them on until contracts are finalized, according to state law. 

That leaves the Jericho district, with 3,300 students, in limbo as it waits on Oyster Bay.

The Farmingdale district is in somewhat of a holding pattern as well. Bus cameras are operating on the Suffolk side of the district, but officials are waiting on Oyster Bay to finalize a contract before they can turn on the cameras in the Nassau portion.

Oyster Bay spokesman Brian Nevin said town officials were waiting to watch the rollout in Hempstead town, where more than 1,500 buses have cameras. He said he believed Oyster Bay's program would be fully operational by January and the terms of the contract, enforcement and adjudication would mirror Hempstead town's program.

Not every district in Hempstead town has the cameras, even though the town has signed on. Valley Stream 13, Lawrence, Baldwin and Hempstead schools haven't opted in, BusPatrol spokesman Jason Elan said. 

Hempstead school board president Lamont E. Johnson said he believes it would be a "great program," but so far there has been no discussion among board members. The cost of the fine might be a burden on the community, he said.

The 6,000-student district busses a smaller percentage of its population than others across Nassau. Still, Johnson said the cameras could help change motorists' behavior.

"This is a walking district, so we want to make it as safe as possible when they are traveling through these busy roadways," Johnson said. "Many people don't follow the traffic rules. So hopefully people will know that when you do pass through one of these stop signs on a bus you will get a fine — that will be a deterrent."

North Hempstead Town Supervisor Jennifer DeSena said she believes there is support for the cameras among parents and schools. 

"It is worth working out the details. I know rolling out something like this can be big, but the benefits will be enormous,” DeSena said. “In an ideal world, everyone will be safer and we won’t see this risky behavior.”

In Suffolk, cameras have been operating since 2021 in all 71 districts, including BOCES. The county's program was the first in the state and is the largest in the nation, according to BusPatrol.

"It took less than six months to equip more than 4,500 buses there with the enforcement technology," Monfared said.

"We really believe in full fleet deployment. If you are going to drive behavior change, you don't want a motorist thinking, 'Is that stop protected, is that bus equipped or not?' " he said.  

In the first full year, more than 118,000 tickets were issued, with fines generating nearly $25 million in gross revenue.

The rate of ticketing dropped 40% between 2021 and 2022, according to data provided to the county by BusPatrol.

BusPatrol receives 45% of fee and penalty revenue, while Suffolk gets 55%. Revenue doesn't go directly to school districts. The municipalities are required to spend it on school and traffic safety programs.

Suffolk spokeswoman Marykate Guilfoyle said the county uses the revenue for "a variety of different initiatives, including public service announcements, school crossing guards, Little League sponsorships and grants for school districts. The grants for school districts are based on school district population size." 

As the academic year is poised to start, more than half of Nassau's 56 school districts have delayed a program that uses stop-arm cameras to catch drivers who illegally pass the thousands of yellow buses set to transport students.

District leaders said the county's limited role in the initiative has resulted in a disjointed rollout. Unlike in Suffolk, where the county directly contracted with a company to install the cameras in 2021, Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman has declined to participate, leaving it in the hands of Nassau's three towns.

The Town of Hempstead has signed on, and Oyster Bay and North Hempstead are in the process. School districts in each must wait on the towns to join before they can.

“It would have been in the best interest of all 56 districts in Nassau if the county administration had taken on the ultimate responsibility of implementing the local legislation,” Jericho Superintendent Hank Grishman said.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • More than half of Nassau's 56 school districts have delayed school bus stop-arm cameras aimed at catching drivers who illegally pass buses.
  • The Town of Hempstead has joined the program, and Oyster Bay and North Hempstead are in the process. School districts in each must wait on municipalities to join before they can.
  • District leaders say the county's limited role in the initiative has resulted in a disjointed rollout.

In his district, cameras are on more than 60 buses. But they won't be turned on for the first day of school because the Town of Oyster Bay hasn't finalized a contract with the company running the program.

“The equipment is up and running, and the sooner it is live and working it will increase the safety and well-being of kids,” said Grishman, who hopes to turn the cameras on during the academic year. “We would have loved the cameras to be turned on last winter."

Christopher Boyle, Blakeman's spokesman, said in a statement: “The County Executive believes there were pluses and minuses to such a program and felt it was more appropriate for the local municipalities to make their own decision on whether or not to participate.”

School bus camera law

While it's always been illegal to drive past a school bus with its stop arm extended, a 2019 state law allows municipalities to partner with districts to use cameras to hold violators accountable. 

The cameras capture images of the vehicles driving by — on both sides of the road — and send them to the local municipality, which mails tickets to the owners. 

The civil penalties do not add points to a driver's license but include fines of $250 for a first violation and $300 for a second violation in an 18-month period. The owners can pay the fine or contest it at Nassau County's Traffic & Parking Violations Agency.

In November, the Town of Hempstead became the first in Nassau to launch the camera program. Newsday reported more than 12,000 tickets issued in its first three months. The town did not provide updated numbers.

The county’s traffic court has adjudicated 500 cases and has 220 more on its calendar to be heard before Sept. 20, according to Boyle.    

The City of Long Beach began fining drivers on Aug. 6.

BusPatrol, an automated camera enforcement company based in Virginia, has been contracting with municipalities to issue tickets and notify drivers.

"You really have to be living under a rock to not know our program is coming to your community," said Karoon Monfared, BusPatrol president and CEO.

While the program has been touted as an important safety measure, the cameras have been met with skepticism by motorists and others concerned it's a cash grab. 

Some have said they were fined for driving opposite a bus on divided highways with physical medians. Other drivers said they were ticketed before the stop arm was fully extended, or that they never received an initial violation and lost their chance to contest the ticket.

BusPatrol, one of the country's largest school bus camera program operators, has contracts with districts across the United States and is backed by several financial firms including FIT Ventures and OakTree Capital.

Monfared said the company's mission is to "create a culture of safety and awareness around school buses," with a goal of getting 100% of children who ride them protected. 

Founded in 2017, BusPatrol purchased some of its technology from Force Multiplier Solutions, a defunct company involved in a bribery and kickback scheme in Dallas that resulted in a public bus agency's insolvency and convictions against three public officials and two Force Multiplier executives. 

BusPatrol officials have said the company is separate and independent from Force Multiplier, and that the company's assets were purchased after the bribes took place.

Program delays

The towns of Oyster Bay and North Hempstead have passed resolutions authorizing the cameras but are still negotiating contracts with BusPatrol. School districts aren't able to turn them on until contracts are finalized, according to state law. 

That leaves the Jericho district, with 3,300 students, in limbo as it waits on Oyster Bay.

The Farmingdale district is in somewhat of a holding pattern as well. Bus cameras are operating on the Suffolk side of the district, but officials are waiting on Oyster Bay to finalize a contract before they can turn on the cameras in the Nassau portion.

Oyster Bay spokesman Brian Nevin said town officials were waiting to watch the rollout in Hempstead town, where more than 1,500 buses have cameras. He said he believed Oyster Bay's program would be fully operational by January and the terms of the contract, enforcement and adjudication would mirror Hempstead town's program.

Not every district in Hempstead town has the cameras, even though the town has signed on. Valley Stream 13, Lawrence, Baldwin and Hempstead schools haven't opted in, BusPatrol spokesman Jason Elan said. 

Hempstead school board president Lamont E. Johnson said he believes it would be a "great program," but so far there has been no discussion among board members. The cost of the fine might be a burden on the community, he said.

The 6,000-student district busses a smaller percentage of its population than others across Nassau. Still, Johnson said the cameras could help change motorists' behavior.

"This is a walking district, so we want to make it as safe as possible when they are traveling through these busy roadways," Johnson said. "Many people don't follow the traffic rules. So hopefully people will know that when you do pass through one of these stop signs on a bus you will get a fine — that will be a deterrent."

North Hempstead Town Supervisor Jennifer DeSena said she believes there is support for the cameras among parents and schools. 

"It is worth working out the details. I know rolling out something like this can be big, but the benefits will be enormous,” DeSena said. “In an ideal world, everyone will be safer and we won’t see this risky behavior.”

Suffolk rollout

In Suffolk, cameras have been operating since 2021 in all 71 districts, including BOCES. The county's program was the first in the state and is the largest in the nation, according to BusPatrol.

"It took less than six months to equip more than 4,500 buses there with the enforcement technology," Monfared said.

"We really believe in full fleet deployment. If you are going to drive behavior change, you don't want a motorist thinking, 'Is that stop protected, is that bus equipped or not?' " he said.  

In the first full year, more than 118,000 tickets were issued, with fines generating nearly $25 million in gross revenue.

The rate of ticketing dropped 40% between 2021 and 2022, according to data provided to the county by BusPatrol.

BusPatrol receives 45% of fee and penalty revenue, while Suffolk gets 55%. Revenue doesn't go directly to school districts. The municipalities are required to spend it on school and traffic safety programs.

Suffolk spokeswoman Marykate Guilfoyle said the county uses the revenue for "a variety of different initiatives, including public service announcements, school crossing guards, Little League sponsorships and grants for school districts. The grants for school districts are based on school district population size." 

Newsday Live and nextLI present a conversation with experts on the impact of powerful storms and rising insurance costs on Long Island hosted by NewsdayTV Anchor/Reporter Macy Egeland. The conversation continues on newsday.com/nextli where we invite Long Islanders to share their experiences on this looming crisis of changing weather patterns, flooding, shoreline protection, home buyouts and more to find potential solutions for the region’s future.

Paying the Price: Long Island's stormy future Newsday Live and nextLI present a conversation with experts on the impact of powerful storms and rising insurance costs on Long Island hosted by NewsdayTV Anchor/Reporter Macy Egeland.

Newsday Live and nextLI present a conversation with experts on the impact of powerful storms and rising insurance costs on Long Island hosted by NewsdayTV Anchor/Reporter Macy Egeland. The conversation continues on newsday.com/nextli where we invite Long Islanders to share their experiences on this looming crisis of changing weather patterns, flooding, shoreline protection, home buyouts and more to find potential solutions for the region’s future.

Paying the Price: Long Island's stormy future Newsday Live and nextLI present a conversation with experts on the impact of powerful storms and rising insurance costs on Long Island hosted by NewsdayTV Anchor/Reporter Macy Egeland.

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