A supplier of red-light cameras has found a new client: suburban school districts.
RedSpeed Illinois Inc. is testing a camera that catches drivers blowing through a special kind of stop sign -- on the side of school buses.
The cameras, educators say, document drivers who pose a hazard for students stepping off and onto buses. The devices also record evidence police use to write fines -- starting at $150 in Rolling Meadows -- that officials say deter repeat offenders.
Rolling Meadows police urged Palatine Township Elementary District 15 to ink a three-year deal with RedSpeed. The school board and the Rolling Meadows City Council approved the contract this week.
Here's how the cameras work: When the bus driver prepares to pick up or drop off students and extends the so-called stop arm, the cameras start recording.
RedSpeed sends footage and the location (picked up by GPS sensors) of drivers who ignore the flashing sign to Rolling Meadows police. Officers who verify the offense issue a $150 ticket to the violator, who must pay the fine to Rolling Meadows police.
RedSpeed will keep the proceeds until the firm recovers the cost of installing the cameras. After that, $120 is split three ways among police, the district and RedSpeed. Police also get a $30 processing fee.
"This really isn't a revenue-generating item," Superintendent Scott Thompson said. "This is a safety item."
The district hopes to roll out the cameras on a handful of buses -- only the ones on Rolling Meadows routes -- by the start of the school year Aug. 25.
Administrators will review the pilot program before adding cameras to the rest of the district's fleet of 138 buses, Thompson said.
Expanding to more buses also would need the support of police in Hoffman Estates, Inverness and Palatine.
In Prospect Heights, police pushed Elementary District 23 to hire RedSpeed in a three-year contract approved by the school board in July.
Superintendent Deb Wilson said the devices are a natural extension from red-light cameras made by the Lombard-based firm. Any revenue from tickets will offset the cost of crossing guard salaries, she added.
"You can't put police on every corner," Wilson said. "This helps us keep our children safe."
Police Chief Jamie Dunne said the cameras free up patrol officers from following buses during rush hour, a peak time for 911 calls. The department also is "working closely" with Wheeling police interested in the cameras.
"The technology is a manpower multiplier," Dunne said.
In District 15, the crackdown comes after complaints from bus drivers frustrated with the number of motorists going around stop arms, Thompson said.
"The bus drivers say that it happens pretty frequently," he said.