Portsmouth bus drivers: Eyes, ears for prevention

Local coalitions say thanks — and educate them about risky behaviors

By Jim McGaw
Posted 10/6/21

PORTSMOUTH — Local prevention specialists know bus drivers are on the front lines when it comes to detecting dangerous behaviors exhibited by their younger passengers.

That’s why …

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Portsmouth bus drivers: Eyes, ears for prevention

Local coalitions say thanks — and educate them about risky behaviors


PORTSMOUTH — Local prevention specialists know bus drivers are on the front lines when it comes to detecting dangerous behaviors exhibited by their younger passengers.

That’s why representatives from the Newport County Prevention Coalition (NCPC) were at the First Student bus yard on East Main Road last week to say thank you — complete with doughnuts and water bottles — and to educate bus drivers, monitors and aids on red flags they may be missing.

“Today we are starting this campaign in Portsmouth to recognize and help educate some of our bus drivers throughout Newport County,” said Grey Thompson, program coordinator for the Strategic Prevention Partnerships in NCPC. “The bus drivers are an essential part of prevention work, especially when we’re working with youth. They notice thing such things as bullying, parents who may not be at the bus stop, who’s not appropriately dressed — someone who may not be wearing a coat in the winter or in the rain. They definitely help out with all that information. They’re almost our first contact with the preventative measures that we can take.”

They set up a table that was full of devices that appear to be ordinary items such as backpacks, clothing and pens, but which can be used to conceal vaping equipment or stash cannabis, alcohol and other substances.

“We also wanted to show some of the new mechanisms that are out there when it comes to risky behaviors and substance abuse,” Thompson said. “We have examples of how similar household our regular household snacks look like edible snacks.”

With that he held up a package of Cheez-Its, and placed another package next to it which appeared identical except for a few details in smaller print. 

“Here are your Cheeb-Itz,” he said. The 1-ounce package of cannabis-infused crackers contains 600 mg of TCH, according to the label.

“If you’re a parent, or you could be a bus driver or even a teacher, you see this and you’re thinking, ‘Oh, it’s only a snack.’ So you may not recognize this, but we want to make sure everyone can see it so they know what’s out there,” Thompson said.

Another such “mechanism” was a hoodie with drawstrings from which one can actually vape any substance. Another was a wristwatch which tells the correct time, but also contains a small vaping device hidden inside. Polly Allen, a certified prevention specialist with Strategic Prevention Partnerships in NCPC, showed it to First Student bus driver, monitor, aid and general “Jack of all trades,” Steve Nemec.

“That’s like James Bond,” said Nemec as he shook his head. “It’s pretty interesting. I didn’t know this stuff could be so well-hidden.”

Allen said she bought the vaping backpack and hoodie directly from the company that manufactures them, Vaperwear. All she had to do was check off a box saying she was at least 21 years of age.

Thompson held up a fake water bottle that’s used to stash substances, and a hairbrush that’s actually a flask. Fake umbrellas, binoculars and phones can also be used to stash items. Many of these products can be purchased on Amazon or even at Christmas Tree Shops, he said.

Google “disguise my weed” and you’ll come up with more than 12 million page hits, with everything from “stash underwear,” hollowed-out Bibles and fake tampons. 

“A lot of people aren’t trying to hide items that are illegal,” said Joan Warren, coordinator of the Portsmouth Prevention Coalition, which is part of NCPC. “They want to hide their jewelry or money. So these things are legal, but they can be used for other purposes.”

What they’re asking

NCPC members said they’re only asking bus drivers to help be their eyes and ears.

“We are just educating them,” Thompson said. “We’re not asking the bus drivers to intervene or jump in or anything. We’re just asking about things that they notice. It’s not anything they have to report to us, but as we come in and do our visits, they may say, ‘We see this happening.’ It’s our job from there to come up with a way to prevent that. There may be some things that they’re seeing that we’re not even thinking of because we’re not out there every day.”

Drugs or alcohol use aren’t the only things that can harm children. Allen said that since bus drivers are among the first adults who interact with youth in the morning, they may witness needs within the family, signs of food insecurity or even abuse or neglect.

“(The bus drivers) may say, ‘You know what would probably be good? If in this neighborhood, you guys hold a coat drive because in this neighborhood, a lot of kids don’t have coats,” Thompson added. “We want them at the table, we want their input, and we want to say ‘thank you’ for what they’ve done.”

As Nemec walked away from the table, he told the trio, “We’ll keep an eye out for you.”

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