The Newburgh Police Department recently received a grant to assist with school bus safety in the area.
The NPD was one of 39 police agencies in the state awarded a grant specifically meant to help target aggressive driving and speeding around school buses and school bus stop-arm violations in general. In total, the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute distributed $380,000 throughout the state to agencies, with the Newburgh Police Department receiving a $4,000 grant. No other Warrick County agencies either applied or received grant monies, but for Warrick County workers with children who attend Evansville schools, the Evansville-Vanderburgh School Corp. Police were also awarded $1,238.
The grant coincides with a new a new school bus safety law, which went into effect on July 1 of this year and requires school bus drivers to use flashing lights and extend the stop arm any time students are loading or unloading the vehicle.
For drivers unfamiliar with school bus safety laws, Indiana drivers must stop for a school bus when the arm is extended. Unless there is an actual physical barrier or unimproved median on a divided highway, the opposite traffic must stop. If there is none, they may proceed, but with incredible caution.
Newburgh Chief of Police Eric Mitchell said they often have problems on Bell Road with drivers not stopping when they should.
"[The road] is just distracted driving for the most part," he said. "Because it's four lanes they don't think they should stop, but they should stop."
Mitchell said the NPD applied for this new grant due to incredibly high reports of bus stop-arm violations occurring locally.
"I believe there was about 50 in a single day last year in Warrick County," he said.
In one instance, a 24-year-old woman struck and killed three children walking to their school bus not too far away in Rochester last October.
"So this grant is a big deal to us," Mitchell said.
The Newburgh chief of police said the grant money is being used specifically to assign an officer to certain bus routes during the first six weeks of school.
"Normally, the bus drivers report any violations to the school corp., so they know which bus routes need us the most," he said. "So, we will be getting with those drivers and following them on their routes."
Mitchell did say there was an option with the grant to even have an officer stationed on the bus, but he wasn't too fond of that idea.
"Because how are they going to go and catch someone if they are sitting on a stopped bus," he said.
Mitchell said the grant gives the department extra resources they wouldn't normally have to police the areas where many of the violations occur.
"An officer is going to be assigned specifically to this," he said. "So they aren't taking calls or having something else drawing them away from that."
But all in all, Mitchell said their main goal isn't just to cite people.
"We want to hopefully be visible so they can say, 'Hey, we shouldn't be doing this,'" he said.
Mitchell said they are very grateful for the grant and hope it helps keep the children safer and drivers more aware when it comes to school buses.
"It's definitely an issue everywhere when you look at the accidents that happen because people just don't pay attention," he said. "So, we are kind of excited about this. To me, this is one of the best grants I've seen in years."
Indiana police agencies have until Aug. 30 to apply for an additional school-bus stop enforcement grants and can do so at www.in.gov/cji.