In recent weeks, a half-dozen school buses were recovered after being stolen from school districts in Florida and Georgia, and at least one of the districts has taken steps to enhance security in its parking lot.
Florida law enforcement initiated a statewide investigation several months ago when school districts in both states began reporting the thefts. Two buses stolen from an Alachua County Public Schools bus compound in Hawthorne, Fla., in September were recovered in Flagler County early last month. The Flagler County Sheriff’s Office arrested Alphoso Bernard Rock of Jacksonville, who owns 95 South Tours and Transportation, on charges of theft of a motor vehicle less valued at than $100,000. The stolen buses were allegedly leased out by 95 South for shuttling fans to the Georgia-Florida college football game on Nov. 2, and for transporting students to private schools and other activities.
On Nov. 6 the Gainesville Police Department received a call from the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office (JSO), according to the local CBS station, requesting to examine some buses that were parked in a grassy field in Gainesville, where the University of Florida campus is located. GPD discovered four other stolen school buses, and police reports state that two were from Flagler County School and one from Duval County. Additionally, one of the buses had been taken from First Student Inc.’s Jacksonville facility back in July 2009. The stolen buses were labeled “95 South Tours, Inc.,” just like the ones found in Jacksonville.
Both of the Alachua County buses were returned to the district the week of Nov. 18. The district’s name had been removed from the exterior of the buses and their VIN numbers were altered, but otherwise they were “in good shape,” said the district.
“We’re so grateful for the work of law enforcement agencies throughout Florida and Georgia, including the local agencies, that worked together to solve this case,” said Hershel Lyons, interim superintendent at Alachua County Public Schools.
Though the district had received an insurance settlement for the stolen buses, officials said they waited to cash the check after hearing that buses stolen from other districts had been recovered.
Since the theft of the buses, the school district has installed cameras in all five of its bus compounds.
“We were thinking about getting security cameras prior to the theft,” said David Dees, Alachua County’s assistant transportation director. “Once that happened, we went ahead and installed them. They are all working now, except we’re waiting on a couple more cameras.”
He added that he would receive training from the district’s IT Department on how to download and view footage from the Sony security system.
Umar Shankar, director of IT, told STN that two to three cameras were installed at each bus compound depending on the size of the coverage area.
“We also have PTZ (point-tilt-zoom) cameras on campuses where needed,” said Shankar. “The number of cameras always depends on the real estate we need to cover.”