“This city has a commitment to Vision Zero, and having crossing guards at dangerous intersections could be helpful to more than just our public school students.”
City Council Member Ben Kallos
Despite increased funding as part of a citywide push to hire enough crossing guards to cover every school crossing post in New York City, as many as half of budgeted crossing guard positions in some Manhattan neighborhoods have gone unfilled.
City Council Member Helen Rosenthal raised the issue at a recent budget hearing, at which she referenced a lack of crossing guard coverage near a cluster of schools in her district, including the new Riverside School for Makers and Artists, which opened in September.
“There’s been no crossing guard at 60th and West End Avenue, where we just opened a new public school, a private school just opened, and we have three other schools up the block on West 61st,” Rosenthal said at the hearing. “It’s been very distressing for the parents.”
Five out of nine budgeted crossing guard positions were unfilled in the Upper West Side’s 20th Precinct as of January 2017, the most recent period for which data is available. (Rosenthal said it is her understanding that the number of positions filled has not since changed. The NYPD is required to report updated data on crossing guard vacancies to the City Council by Sept. 30, 2018.)
“That means that there are five corners that have been determined to be critical for the safety of our children crossing the street to get to school that are not covered every day because they don’t have people to do so,” Rosenthal said in a later telephone interview.
School crossing guards are hired by and work under the purview of the NYPD. When a school crossing does not have a guard assigned to it, precincts assign traffic enforcement agents or patrol officers to provide coverage, but Rosenthal said that this protocol still sometimes results in unguarded corners.
“A traffic agent or P.O. will go off and do something else if called to do so, because their primary job is not to be a school crossing guard,” Rosenthal said. “So the fallback that they have in place, in my mind’s eye anyway, is not satisfactory.”
At a May 2017 City Council hearing, an NYPD official said that there were then 63 school posts being covered by a traffic enforcement agent.
The NYPD received an additional $6.3 million in this year’s budget to hire an additional 100 full-time school crossing guard supervisors and 200 part-time school crossing guards. A total of 2,638 part-time crossing guard positions are funded in the current budget.
In the Upper East Side’s 19th Precinct, 12 of 23 budgeted crossing guard positions were vacant as of January 2017. Ben Kallos, who represents the neighborhood in the City Council, said that public school principals in his district have requested that more crossing guards be budgeted and hired.
“There are schools throughout the city that have safety concerns relating to school violence, but in my district, both in schools and out of schools, the top safety concern is vehicle collisions,” he said.
Kallos said that the 19th Precinct has struggled to attract applicants and retain guards once they’ve been hired, a problem he believes is related to compensation.
Most crossing guards are part-time employees, who generally work a split shift of short periods in both the morning and afternoon and are not employed over the summer. Though pay for crossing guards has been increased in recent years and employees are eligible for health insurance benefits if they work more than 20 hours per week, wages for the part-time positions are relatively low, starting at $13.50 per hour climbing to and $14.04 per hour after three years, according to the NYPD.
“This needs to be a year-round job,” Kallos said. “These people need to be paid a living wage, with benefits, and they need to have shifts that they can live on without having a large uncompensated break during the day.”
Kallos believes that crossing guards could be given additional assignments beyond their current hours and over the summer to monitor intersections near after-school programming sites, youth centers and parks. “After all, this city has a commitment to Vision Zero, and having crossing guards at dangerous intersections could be helpful to more than just our public school students,” he said.
When candidates do apply for open positions, Rosenthal said, the hiring process can take months. Candidates must be able to speak and understand English, pass a background check and medical examination and complete six days of NYPD training. Rosenthal said she plans to look into hiring practices to ensure that the onboarding process is as streamlined as possible.
“I’m not even sure we’re aiming for the right number of crossing guards,” Rosenthal said. “Perhaps there should be more, but we don’t have the luxury of asking that question because we can’t even fill the slots we do have.”