Police Traffic Capt. Thomas W. Fiegl wants to move school crossing guards from less busy intersections to more heavily traveled corners instead of having police officers fill in for absent guards.
To keep police on patrol, Fiegl is suggesting a new policy that would allow less busy intersections to be without crossing guards completely if not enough guards show up for work. Their guards would be transferred to busier, unguarded corners so police don't have to handle the job.
The plan is expected to come to a vote at the Oct. 6 Common Council meeting, said Alderman Sean M. Smith, D-2nd Ward.
Smith supports the idea. "Obviously, we hate for one of our few policemen to be tied up at an intersection," he said. "I wanted to talk to all the aldermen, and they're all pretty much in favor of the plan."
Mayor Kenneth D. Swan said, "It's not the best plan, but (Fiegl) has to use what he has to work with. You don't need a policeman standing up at a low-priority corner."
Fiegl said the proposal was triggered by a shortage of crossing guards this school year. Seventeen intersections are supposed to have crossing guards, but the city is short-staffed because some guards retired.
New guards have proven hard to find. One reason is the salary of $6.50 per hour for 3 1/2 to 4 1/4 hours per day, the total of morning and afternoon shifts.
Said Smith: "Six-fifty's not a lot of money to screw up your day."
Also, the state Labor Department changed the rules on unemployment benefits.
Fiegl said, "The state increased the requirement for the amount of money that had to be made before people could collect unemployment."
Many of the crossing guards were collecting jobless benefits in the summer, but they don't meet the threshold anymore, with their top gross pay of $138.13 per week.
The city tries to maintain a small staff of substitute crossing guards, but Fiegl said their ranks are depleted. When there aren't enough guards, policemen are called away from patrol to walk children across the street.
Fiegl said, "There are some times you only have three patrol cars in the whole city."
The 17 intersections are divided into four priority groups, based on the number of children and the amount of traffic. Fiegl said the Priority 1 group, with lots of kids and heavy traffic, includes intersections on state arterial routes.
Examples include South Transit and High streets, East and Rogers avenues, and the West Avenue intersections with Bristol, Ohio and New York streets.
On the other hand, there are a couple of Priority 4 corners, which Fiegl said include Lincoln Avenue and Locust Street, and Clinton and Mill streets.
Although Lockport High School is located at the former corner, Fiegl said the law only calls for providing crossing guards for children in the sixth grade or younger. He said only a few children walk across the intersection toward Charles Upson Elementary School a few blocks away.
The corner of Clinton and Mill is near Dewitt Clinton Elementary School, but Fiegl said with the Exchange Street bridge closed and a traffic signal at the corner, most children only come from one direction.
The plan is to move guards from lower priority corners to higher priority ones if a guard is absent and no substitute can be found.
Smith said, "We're only asking police to cover if after all that, a Priority 1 is still uncovered."
He added, "What we were trying to do is get backups from the block club parents."
Swan said many cities don't have crossing guards anymore. "We feel strongly that's a service we should provide," the mayor said.