“What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff—I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them.” – J.D. Salinger
Almost every morning, I take our 5-year-old daughter to school on a short and mostly predictable trip: we get on a crowded bus for a 10-minute ride and then get off about two blocks away from her school at a busy Queens intersection. Even for sleepy Rockaway, everyone is in a hurry at that time of day. Most drivers seem both distracted and in a big rush — a dangerous recipe for someone behind the wheel. Helping save us from some of the most amped-up drivers is a hard-working school crossing guard who is unafraid of facing down someone driving a large metal object at a high rate of speed. Along with her co-worker stationed two blocks away, our guards make life a little bit calmer and a lot safer for a wave of students and their parents on every school day.
So it was stunning to learn that some of our local superheroes are on the budget chopping block. Trying to save $7.5 million, the NYPD wants to eliminate 483 crossing guard positions that are currently vacant, downsizing the number of guards across the city by about 18% for the fiscal year that starts next month.
While $7.5 million would be a lot of money for most of us, it’s a drop in a drop of the NYPD’s bucket—which is $5.4 billion in the preliminary budget for the next fiscal year. It would seem to make little fiscal or political sense not to hire people who try to save children from speeding cars and whose starting salary in a part-time job is $16.88 an hour.
In the wake of this story, which was first broken by the New York Daily News, Streetsblog reported that on school days, there are 57% more crashes near schools than on the city’s other streets. The site noted that drivers have killed at least 24 children heading to or from school between 2012 and 2022. And let’s not forget about the crossing guards: the union representing them says ten of them have been injured by drivers since 2014.
In a statement to Streetsblog, the NYPD defended the move, noting: “Remember, the NYPD works every day to best manage the budget and the operational needs of its public safety mission.” So what part of the NYPD mission is having fewer people out there literally looking out for kids?
An aftermath of the pandemic seems to be that traffic is crazier and more dangerous than before. Let’s not extend that craziness to the budget.