But no tickets have been issued.
County leaders are looking to change that this month. The Board of Commissioners will vote on an ordinance Feb. 28 that would allow the Solicitor General’s Office to issue tickets based on bus stop arm camera evidence.
“We cannot write a ticket (for these violations) because there is no method in place that allows a peace officer to issue a citation,” Cobb Police Sgt. Dana Pierce said. “Whether we write a ticket or not though, we still address the issue with the (violator).”
After the Georgia Stop Arm Law passed, the Cobb school district installed $20,400 worth of stop arm cameras on 102 buses in the Cobb County School District last fall. The cameras take photos and video of vehicles going past a school bus with its stop arm extended.
However, because an ordinance is not in place, the county Solicitor General’s Office cannot fine violators caught by the stop arm cameras because it is a civil, as opposed to criminal, case.
“The state law didn’t grant us the ability to prosecute civil cases when they wrote the law,” Solicitor General Barry Morgan said.
Morgan, along with representatives from county government, the school district and police department, has been working since last fall to get an ordinance in place to enforce the stop arm law.
Morgan said the school district approached him over the summer when they saw the “quirk” in the law, which was implemented in 2011.
Commission Chairman Tim Lee said he learned that the county didn’t have the ability to hear the cases after that initial meeting with each county agency.
“It’s the law that was passed that put some burden on the county to address, and we’re addressing our responsbilities,” Lee said. “It was agreed to by all involved that (the ordinance) was the right course to take.”
Once the ordinance is approved, Lee said the school board would then be required to approve a Memorandum of Understanding that would figure out the costs associated with the violations and how to distribute the funds from ticket collections.
“The ordinance will hopefully be passed in two weeks,” he said. “The MOU is under review by the school board attorney, and when they finally come back, which will hopefully be soon, with their change and recommendations … then it’ll be brought before the (commission) to be adopted formally.”
Lee said the process could be complete within 60 days of the MOU being finalized and when that happens, Lee said Cobb County would be the first in Georgia to address the issue surrounding the Stop Arm Law.
“We’re working as diligently as we can, but being cautious,” Lee said. “When you venture into a whole new area where there is no precedence or other jurisdictions doing it as a starting point, we want to be timely but careful.”
Lee said that he hopes after the ordinance is finalized, all 159 counties in Georgia will ask for copies of it to use as a starting point.
Of the 300 violations turned into Cobb Police, the Cobb School’s Transportation Director Rick Grisham said 175 were recorded on the stop arm cameras, 76 were reported verbally by bus drivers without cameras and 65 were violations where a tag number could not be verified.
For the time being, the police department mails notifications to violators and warn them of their wrongdoing. The only way someone can be prosecuted for passing a bus with a stop arm down in the meantime is when an officer personally sees someone violating the law.
“This is a misdemeanor charge, and a misdemeanor must take place in the officer’s presence,” Pierce said.
The state law was introduced to state legislators by Cobb parent Sheri Lewis, who attended the initial meeting with Lee and county delegates and said the process to get the violators prosecuted has taken longer than she expected, but that the county is focused on getting it done right.
“We are trying to be patient,” she said. “The whole idea behind the cameras is to change the driving behavior in Cobb County. It’s not about the revenue, it’s about protecting the children.”
As far as the Stop Arm Law, Lewis said a driver must always stop when the stop arm is down, unless they are driving in the opposite direction of the bus and there is a median, grass or trees separating them.
Once the prosecution of the violation is in place, Grisham said he will look at installing additional cameras next school year but has not confirmed whether or not the money will be in his budget.
“I would propose our existing 400 new DVR systems on buses to be able to accommodate the exterior stop arm camera, which would be a minimal cost as compared to a new system,” he said.
If approved by the school board, upgrading 400 units would cost about $300,000.
In the meantime, Marietta City School is looking into installing stop arm cameras on their buses as well, according to spokesman Thomas Algarin.
“We are in discussions with a private company regarding installing stop arm cameras as part of a pilot program,” he said. “The transportation department is looking at that, and if we can work out an agreement regarding the pilot project we will install stop arm cameras on a few school buses.”