A new crossing guard has been stationed at the intersection of Long Beach Road and Henrietta Avenue since Nov. 20, after Oceanside parents pushed for increased safety measures in the wake of a car accident that left a high school student injured.
Fourth Precinct officers will guide students at the intersection until Nassau County hires a permanent crossing guard. During the first days of the new post, the Herald spoke to the officer stationed there, who raised issues about the current county crossing guard program.
The officer, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the press, said that when guards don’t show up at their posts, officers are required to fill in. On the day he spoke to the Herald, he said that of the 24 patrol cars on duty in the precinct, two-thirds were substituting for crossing guards.
On-duty officer replacements jeopardize “the safety of the whole community,” he said, adding that an assignment to cover the intersection meant he could not respond to emergency calls. “I’ve got a defibrillator right here in my car,” he said, “but if you’re having a heart attack down the block, there’s nothing I can do about it.”
The officer stayed at the intersection for 45 minutes, and helped three high school students cross. One, named Brea, observed, “It’s so weird getting crossed” by an officer, adding that she guessed it made her feel safer. In addition to guiding students, the officer stopped traffic once to allow an ambulance and police car to pass.
The officer said that one of the reasons crossing guards don’t show up is that they are not assigned to posts based on where they live. Between the cost of gas, the commute time and the limited number of hours worked, the officer said, there isn’t always enough incentive to show up.
A posting on the Nassau County Police website for crossing guard applicants states, “Starting salary for this position is $18 per hour with no fringe benefits. This part-time position can require up to 17 hours per week.” Nassau County has cut its budget for crossing guards by 21 percent since 2011, from $8.3 million to $6.5 million, according to the county budget, and the number of full-time crossing guards has been reduced from 331 to 229.
Detective Lt. Richard Lebrun, a Nassau County police spokesman, said there are 350 crossing guards and 408 school crossings, and that the difference is covered by a combination of recruits and police officers. As of Nov. 28, he added, there would be 24 new crossing guards graduating from the police academy.
The decision to post a guard at the busy intersection came after State Sen. Todd Kamisnsky wrote a letter to Inspector Lee Steinberg of the 4th Precinct in September, requesting a crossing guard study after several constituents raised concerns. Police had previously conducted a similar study at the same intersection, the letter stated, which “determined that a crossing guard was not necessary.” Kaminsky urged the 4th Precinct to reconsider.
Rachel Reyes, an Oceanside parent who started two petitions focusing on the intersection, called the first study a “catch-22,” in that it found no need for a crossing guard since students didn’t cross there because of the lack of a guard.
“We don’t get a bus to the middle school,” Reyes said of her children’s commute. “We live over a mile away.” But she added that she was “beyond excited . . . When they want to walk, they can do it safely.”
Crossing guard surveys examine “many factors to determine if the crossing guard is warranted,” Lebrun said. These include, he said, traffic conditions, locations of crosswalks, traffic lights, visibility at the location, the ages of the students using the crossing and “other varied distractions.” He added that the new crossing guard post in Oceanside “will be re-evaluated periodically to ensure that the department’s resources are assigned in the most efficient way possible to ensure the safety of all students.”
Denise Tembelis, who has high school-age children, said she was delighted and surprised to see an officer there. She called the area west of Long Beach Road “the forgotten neighborhood,” and said that although she was excited about the added safety, she understood the officer’s reservations about being taken off patrol.
She said she would rather her children take the bus instead of walking. For high school students, she said, only freshmen are given that option. “The middle school bus passes my house more than half empty,” she said, adding that instead of paying for more crossing guards, “I’d rather the money help pay for more bus service.”