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Your friendly neighborhood crossing guards could make your corners even safer — if only the city would let them | Opinion

Expand their job duties (and pay to align with these new duties) by allowing them to ticket low-level traffic and parking violations.

School crossing guard Aiesha Burton talks with students as they cross Kensington and Lehigh in Philadelphia, PA on June 6, 2018.
School crossing guard Aiesha Burton talks with students as they cross Kensington and Lehigh in Philadelphia, PA on June 6, 2018.Read moreDAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer

Now that Philadelphia is officially back to school, many of us in our neighborhoods are welcoming back not only teachers and students but also our local crossing guards. Crossing guards in Philadelphia don't just keep students safe. All 897 guards reporting to corners all over the city improve commutes for all forms of transportation, help keep eyes on our streets, contributing to a safer city, and they are on the front lines of the Vision Zero movement. An essential part of a crossing guard's job is educating students to follow the rules at intersections. As adults, we may feel "above" their authority and rules, but we should always respect them and be good examples for the students by following the crossing guard's lead.

To become a crossing guard in Philadelphia, you must apply through the city's application process. This position does not fall under the School District of Philadelphia. According to the city, to apply you must fill out an application and take a test. They then place those who qualified to work in their own neighborhood and the crossing guards report to the local Philadelphia Police District. The starting pay for this part-time seasonal position, according to the city's personnel department, starts at $59.39 per day and it includes benefits. There are around 1,100 positions budgeted for the current school year.

According to the job site Indeed, most crossing guards in Philadelphia are happy with their jobs.

Overwhelmingly, they cite working with the students as the best part of their job and the weather being the hardest. (Reminder: On a rainy day bring a crossing guard a cup of coffee.)

Nevertheless, for many they also list as a con a lack of upward mobility in their position. But what if we expanded the program?

As a building block to growing the program, the city first needs to fill the current vacancies in our neighborhoods. To do so they need to streamline the application process and leave it open all year long to make it easier to hire new guards. There are about 140 vacancies, but you cannot currently apply for these jobs. The police and city's personnel department confirmed they hire only during certain periods, which leaves some corners empty during vulnerable times like back to school.

There also appears to be no real recruitment effort for new guards outside of word of mouth. These civilian jobs are advertised through the police and city website. But think of the reach they could have if they also collaborated with the School District and the Mayor's Office of Education to hold recruitment events. They could also advertise the positions on the School District's website, further garnering interest.

While the daily part-time pay may seem OK, many guards work additional part-time jobs. There should be ways for the crossing guards to work additional hours by expanding the program. Key ways to expand could include offering guards summer hours near the city's recreation centers, public pools, and libraries. This way they can help keep our neighborhood children safe throughout the year.

We could also expand their job duties (and pay to align with these new duties) by allowing them to ticket low-level traffic and parking violations. Recently I asked one of my local guards if she could ticket cars. She laughed and told me if she could, the city would be rich. There are countless infractions that crossing guards have to deal with. On this particular corner the crossing guard witnesses cars going the wrong way down one-way streets and running stop signs. She also deals with dangerous parking situations when drivers park in a crosswalk, in front of a curb cut, or in a school loading zone, especially during school hours. These parking infractions create blind spots for other drivers who may not see them trying to cross students. Giving guards the ability to ticket can expand their job duties and create safer school zones.

Perhaps the crossing-guard unit could even one day become the civilian traffic officers that Council President Darrell Clarke suggested last winter and that hearings will be held about in City Council soon. Crossing guards, after all, have used community policing techniques long before this term became mainstream.

Until then, I call upon Mayor Kenney and City Council to think about creating a formal way to recognize our hardworking crossing guards yearly. We must not wait for these neighborhood leaders to retire. We need to recognize them now. They do so much for all of us. We must show them that we as a city care about them too.

Dena Ferrara Driscoll is a family biking advocate@bikemamadelphia