The Chief-Leader/Dan Rosenblum
By DAN ROSENBLUM |
Wedged between an intermediate school and an accident-prone artery in Jackson Heights, Queens, a pair of state lawmakers and members of Local 372 of District Council 37 urged Governor Cuomo July 7 to sign a bill that would stiffen penalties for those convicted of assaulting School Crossing Guards.
If signed, the School Crossing Guard Safety Act, which passed the State Legislature in mid-June, would make assaults on such workers a Class D felony, which would extend the maximum sentence from one year to seven. Beginning Nov. 1, it would elevate penalties to match those for assaults on sanitation workers, firefighters, paramedics and other city employees who have the same protections.
Cursed and Assaulted
Besides extreme temperatures and relatively few hours and low pay compared to other public-sector workers, Crossing Guards often take heat from impatient drivers.
Santos Crespo, president of Local 372, which represents School Crossing Guards, said that “many thousands” of them have been “cursed at, physically assaulted, almost run over by angry folks,” and said it was “imperative” that Mr. Cuomo sign the bill.
“Is that necessarily going to prevent [attacks]?” he said. “No, but the citizens will at least think about it before they do and say some of the things that they’ve done and said to School Crossing Guards.”
Earlier this year, a cab struck a guard working near a Battery Park City school, and in April, a car maneuvering around a school bus in Brooklyn struck a guard who was able to push a child out of its way. Neither incident was considered intentional.
Mr. Crespo did not have a breakdown of the number of assaults versus accidents, and a Police Department spokesperson said statistics on assaults and injures are kept only on a precinct-by-precinct basis.
Up to 400 Openings
The city’s more than 2,000 guards work under the NYPD, which assigns them within
precincts. Many have said that with about 200 to 400 unfilled positions, the workers can’t staff all of the dangerous roads near the city’s 1,700 schools. (On its website to solicit recruits, the department lists 22 precincts on which it is particularly focused.)
“A lot of people say it’s because of the uneven hours, but it’s because of the lack of respect, it’s because of the abuse,” said State Sen. José Peralta, who sponsored the bill in 2012. “That plays a big role in why people don’t want to become Crossing Guards.”
In a June 30 Daily News op-ed, Mr. Peralta said it took him more than a year-and-a-half of letters and phone calls to get a guard deployed at a busy intersection near P.S. 206 in Rego Park.
The guards work about four to five hours daily and start at $9.88 and make $12.90 after three years. Adding to high turnover is that people take the jobs as stopgaps and quit once they get a more-stable, higher-paying city position. There are some benefits, Mr. Crespo said. Some workers stay for decades because it is one of the jobs in the city that offer pension benefits for part-time workers.
Some of the bill’s backers add the law could make kids safer. The press conference was held at Northern Blvd. and 80th St., where a dump-truck hit a sixth-grader one morning in December 2012. Less than a mile to the east, 8-year-old Noshat Nahian was fatally struck by a truck on Northern Blvd. on the way to school last December.
Trucks vs. Pedestrians
“When we’re dealing with very small pedestrians and very big trucks, sometimes accidents happen,” said Assembly Member Michael DenDekker, who represents the Queens district where both accidents occurred. “And the way to alleviate that accident is to have adult supervision.”
Mr. DenDekker, who said he was a junior crossing guard when he was in school, introduced a bill in January that would mandate Crossing Guards at every corner immediately next to a school and roads nearby with more than four lanes. But he said it would be hard to project the costs or the number of new hires until the open slots are filled.
“I met with the Mayor’s Office, and their thing was, ‘How are we going to pay for it?’” he said. “And I said, ‘Take the revenue from all of the speed cameras and hire all the Crossing Guards.’”
The legislators credited Mr. Crespo for the bill, but criticism within the local about who worked to craft and lobby for the bill is following the union leader through a runoff election, scheduled July 31. Lawrence Kenchen, the local’s former political analyst and an ally of Mr. Crespo’s opponents, has said he garnered much of the support and lobbied with cities upstate to join the effort, but got no recognition from union leadership.
Crossing Guard Rosaid Eslava, who has worked within the police precinct that covers Rego Park and Forest Hills for 21 years, said impatient drivers become motorized menaces during rush hour and when parents drop off their kids. Many drivers, she said, “don’t care and they just want to beat the light or they get stuck in the crosswalk.”
She was happy to see some momentum in Albany that could make her job a little safer.
“Before, we felt like we were over there abandoned and nobody cares, while we are doing a very important job…it is to save the lives of our children,” she said.