PBC school bus cameras not recording

Posted at 9:48 PM, Apr 04, 2016

Cameras capture critical moments on school buses.

"We put these cameras in for a reason and that's to provide absolute security on the  bus," explained Boca Raton parent, Jack Mahoney.

As school districts around the state found after an aide hit a child, a shooting, and the worst school bus crash in our area. The video captured that day now used to build safer buses.

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"No more rock solid evidence than a camera. It's better than an eyewitness," explained Mahoney.

Mahoney has two kids who ride the bus. His youngest son, Aidan, has a duty to keep other kids safe.  He's on the safety patrol.

"The kid was yelling at everyone so I told him to sit down," Aidan said. "He came over grabbed my neck and choked me and I was like that and I couldn't breathe. I thought I was going to get unconscious."

A school incident report details what happened. His family is scarred by what didn't happen.

"She said there's no video," explained Mahoney. "I think the blood must have gone out of my face. I just almost fell over. That doesn't even make sense to me. What? I kept asking why is there no video? I thought you people had video on these buses. It's something you bragged to me about how great it was."

The family says they never got an explanation.

"Why did you want to see the video?" Strathman asked.

"Because that's where the truth is if there's any doubt," Mahoney said. "Everything fell apart. It became a he said she said kind of thing once there was no video evidence."

In some cases, no video even means no charges. In June, a bus driver is hit with a wad of paper. Without video, the push to prosecute went dark.

"What do you say to all the victims?" Strathman asked the Superintendent.

"First of all, what I'll tell you is we are not required by law to have a video on every bus," explained Superintendent Dr. Robert Avossa.

Avossa took over as Superintendent this school year, and has spent a lot of time trying to fix problems at the bus depot.

"It's one of the worst transportation systems I've seen in 20 years," Avossa said.

The district installed two sets of cameras in the last six years, spending $1.5 million. We found nobody was ever put in charge to make sure the cameras worked.

"Its not acceptable those cameras weren't being checked," Avossa said.

Nobody checked the cameras on these buses until "after" an incident. According to emails, one bus hit the road for 8 months, and the video never recorded.

"Someone needs to let the public know the issues we are having," explained Jose Sarmiento, a bus mechanic supervisor. "They complain about kids getting hit. Bullying. Fighting and they don't see no recorders. The video tape. There's nothing in there. It's blank. Nothing working on it."

A Jupiter bus camera didn't work when a driver stopped the bus with just one student on it. She grew uncomfortable and scared when the driver allegedly hugged her while running his fingers through her hair. The camera missed what happened, because the wire was intentionally disconnected from the power supply.

Nobody caught on for an entire month. Emails show ten days later, the camera wasn't recording again.

"What letter grade would you give the school district on their camera program? Strathman asked Sarmiento.

"Not to go down to an F. I'll give them a D," Sarmiento explained.

The Superintendent gives them a passing grade.

"On average we are seeing about 10% of them broken," Avossa said.

"Why don't you have an exact number when we've been asking questions about this for months?" Strathman asked.

"So look, I'm incredibly transparent. I'll work with the media and the community to answer questions. Some of the questions being posed, it's difficult for me to give you an exact number. I'm happy to take a look to see if there's a way to get a more precise number," Avossa said.

We're still waiting for records, but did find that 10-percent number the district gave us is based on how often video is requested and how often its blank.

What about all the other times the cameras are found not working? The district began tracking that this year with monthly camera maintenance checks. The district didn't use those records to base it's estimate that 10-percent of cameras are not working. We requested the maintenance records, but can't get them for security reasons.

"There are legal issues in the 21st century that people are hard pressed to understand," explained Avossa. "We have people who would love to harm children and would love to put us in a predicament like that."

"What is the big security risk?" Strathman asked.

"The security risk is identifying individual buses that may be having technical issues and therefore exposing vulnerability for staff and others who may wish to do harm for our students," Avossa said.

However, we want information from six months ago. Hopefully those vulnerabilities are fixed by now.

Avossa said he'd continue to push the district to release information to us. Nothing has been released.

Even with a monthly check, Avossa admits that's not going to be 100% apparent the camera system works or doesn't work, since it's only checked once a month.

That's true. Remember the assault on Mahoney's son. It happened after the new camera checks started this fall.

"Do you know even if the cameras are working today?" Strathman asked Mahoney.

"I have no idea," Mahoney said.

We've hit many roadblocks exposing this story. Click here to take a journey down document road. It's a behind the scenes look at all the dead ends we hit trying to shed light on this problem.

Coming up Tuesday at 6, why weren't cameras put on 150 school buses? We're getting you answers.

This story started with a Facebook tip. To let Jenn know about your consumer issue or for the latest on the bus issues, follow Jenn on Facebook and Twitter.