School bus drivers are often called the "eyes and ears of the community," and for good reason. They traverse our nation's neighborhoods each school day, so they're well positioned to spot anything unusual.
That's the gist of the Transportation Security Administration's School Bus First Observer training, which educates drivers on suspicious activities that they should report.
Also, the Department of Homeland Security has a campaign called “If You See Something, Say Something,” which advises that everyone has a responsibility to report suspicious activity.
A great illustration of the "See Something, Say Something" concept occurred last week in Chillicothe, Ohio.
The Ross County Sheriff's Office reported in a news release that on the afternoon of Dec. 9, school bus driver Shawn Ost was preparing to drop off students at their home, but something didn't look right. In the driveway, there was a strange van and two strange men.
As WBNS reported, a 12-year-old girl on the bus spotted the men carrying things out of her house.
Instead of letting the students off of the bus as usual, Ost, who works for Chillicothe City Schools, drove farther down the road and called the Ross County Sheriff's Office.
From his seat, Ost couldn't see the men and the van, as he told WBNS, so he directed his passengers to take photos or video with their cell phones. He also handed them a notepad to write down a description.
Deputies came to the scene and found that the home had indeed been burglarized. Ost gave the officers "a good description of the vehicle and its occupants," according to the Ross County Sheriff's Office. Then deputies stopped a van that matched the description a few miles away.
In the van were 27-year-old Corey Howes and 26-year-old Donald Collins, according to the Sheriff's Office. After obtaining a search warrant for the vehicle, the deputies reportedly discovered items that had been taken from the residence.
Both suspects were arrested on burglary charges, and they were taken to the county jail.
Officials commended Ost for his response to the situation. Sheriff George Lavender hailed him "for going above and beyond to ensure the safety of the children in his care and for his help in the apprehension of the two suspects."
But in interviews with local media, Ost gave the credit to his passengers. In fact, it was a team effort — the driver and the students worked together to put the "See Something, Say Something" concept into practice.
The Chillicothe incident was also a vivid example of a term that law enforcement veteran Gary Moore uses: JDLR, for something that "just doesn't look right."
Moore, who currently serves as safety coordinator for the Missouri Center for Education Safety, told me for an article on school bus security earlier this year that “everybody has a range of what they think is normal. If it’s outside of normal, it’s a JDLR. Document it and report it to somebody.”
For school bus drivers on their regular routes, as with any daily routine, there's a risk of settling into complacency. The Chillicothe incident shows that vigilance pays off.
Thomas McMahon is executive editor of School Bus Fleet.