O'Fallon Progress

O’Fallon committee recommends reinstating crossing guard program

Eric Van Hook
Eric Van Hook

The aldermanic Public Safety Committee on Monday voted to recommend to the City Council that it reinstate the O’Fallon Crossing Guard program in its entirety.

In 2015, the Crossing Guard Program cost about $75,000, O’Fallon Mayor Gary Graham said.

The committee voted 4-2 to reinstate the program following a 75-minute meeting held at the O’Fallon Public Safety Building.

Graham on Friday called on the City Council to reinstate funding for the program.

“After talking with parents this past week, I am accelerating those discussions and formally asking the council to authorize O’Fallon’s administration to offer the school districts $42,000 in funding for them to administer a crossing guard program,” he said.

Graham did not attend Monday’s meeting.

O’Fallon Police Chief Eric Van Hook told the public safety committee they had three options to consider, including:

▪  remaining status quo;

▪  fund the program and have schools administer it; and

▪  the city no longer funding or administering the program.

Van Hook said if O’Fallon wants to reinstate the Crossing Guard Program, it cannot be administered with anything other than 100 percent coverage.

“Based on the findings presented, this will require a significant increase in manpower to ensure all locations are covered 100 percent of the time,” he said. “The financial costs associated with 100 percent coverage, will result in a financial increase of an additional 25 percent to 50 percent or more.”

“The unfortunate reality is the Crossing Guard Program is a broken program. The city has expressed its concerns regarding the cost and administration concerns to the school districts since 2009, and they have expressed no interest in the administration of the program,” Van Hook said. “It is clear the great majority of crossing guard programs are administered by school districts, not police departments, even when a city funds all or a portion of the program.”

Memo sent to city administration

On June 9, Van Hook sent a memorandum to Graham and City Administrator Walter Denton regarding crossing guard program data.

“The decision to request the city turn the Crossing Guard Program over to the school districts was made after careful and thorough review of the program,” Van Hook stated in his memo. “The Crossing Guard Program in its current state is ineffective and inefficient. Research was conducted to find a successful, city-funded and city-administered program. Based on the communities we contacted only one community administered the crossing guard program. The school districts administered the program in all of the other communities. In any operational decision cost is a factor. However, the major contributing factor for discontinuing the Crossing Guard Program was the administration of the program and its impact on the police department.”

Van Hook stated this is not a new issue and the school districts were informed of the city’s position on the Crossing Guard Program in 2009.

He said in January 2016, he met with superintendents Darcy Benway (District 203), Carrie Hruby (District 90), John Bute (District 104) and Dale Sauer (Shiloh District 85) to discuss the future of the School Resource Officer Program and the Crossing Guard Program.

“During our discussion I informed them (O’Fallon) was starting the Fiscal Year 2017 budget process and the crossing guards would not be in the police budget,” Van Hook said.

In 2009, a crossing guard survey was conducted due to the increased administrative time and cost associated with running the Crossing Guard Program.

As a result of the data collected four of the 11 crossing guard locations were eliminated, Van Hook said.

“Denton sent a letter to the school superintendent’s outlining the locations that were being eliminated,” he added. “Furthermore, he informed them, ‘if you are interested in pursuing some alternative staffing for these locations, or, if you have some ideas regarding the program as a whole, we would be interested in helping examine any alternatives. Please understand that this does not mark the end of our evaluation of this program and may not be the last reduction in service.’”

Van Hook pointed out that the school districts elected not to staff the four crossing guard positions that were eliminated.

History of the program

O’Fallon has had a crossing guard program for at least 25 years.

There are seven crossing guard locations in O’Fallon, serving District 90 and St. Clare Catholic School. District 104 and District 203 do not have crossing guards.

Graham noted on April 4, O’Fallon’s City Council unanimously voted to pass the 2017 city budget. The $67.7 million budget did not include funding for the crossing guard program.

Graham pointed out that the city council reviewed and discussed the budget several times. First in the public safety committee meeting on March 14, then at the Finance Committee meeting on March 28, and again on April 4, at the city council meeting when the full city council voted unanimously to pass the budget with no recommendation to fund the Crossing Guard program.

Feasiblity studies

In 2015, O’Fallon Police Capt. Mick Hunter completed an SRO and Crossing Guard Report that examined the feasibility of both programs. After researching this issue, Capt. Hunter concluded:

“In either case, the Crossing Guard Program should be the responsibility of the school districts, and little or no financial assistance should be provided (by the city),” Van Hook said.

Van Hook said Hunter’s report was emailed to the City Council in August 2015.

The 2015 Crossing Guard Report revealed:

▪  There were seven locations which the Crossing Guard program attempted to provide coverage. Each location required a crossing guard be present approximately 1 1/2 hours in the morning and 1 1/2 hours in the afternoon.

▪  To provide coverage in 2015, 12 crossing guards and available community service officers were utilized to cover the intersections.

▪  The 12 crossing guards/community service officers were available to cover 2,767 hours of the 3,654 hours needed; a cost of $30,258, Van Hook said.

▪  The 886 hours that remained uncovered would have cost an additional $9,692, Van Hook said.

“These figures reflect 100 percent coverage for the entire year,” he said.

A follow-up study was completed earlier this year. This study revealed the number of crossing guards dropped from 12 in 2015 to seven in 2016, Van Hook said.

A Crossing Guard Salary Comparison Report was created for 2006-2016. Van Hook said the police department has employed 29 individuals over the 10-year period as crossing guards.

“It would seem this program should be simple to administer,” Van Hook said. “However, the administration of this program continues to consume an inordinate amount of time from command staff and often requires police personnel to staff vacant crossing guard positions. The pool of substitutes usually consists of two or three people, and on short notices they are often not available.

“It has always been a challenge to attract applicants for the crossing guard positions because of the pay rate (in 2015 a crossing guard average pay was $10.93 per hour), limited hours and its seasonal employment,” Van Hook said.

Crossing guard shortage

Van Hook said in 2014, only seven people submitted applications for the crossing guard program, and in 2015, only five people submitted applications for the Crossing Guard Program.

“We have also noticed an increase in the turnover rate the past couple of years,” he added.

Van Hook noted that when a crossing guard resigns or is absent, police are left with two options: Fill the crossing guard location with a police personnel (community service officer, or an officer) and/or leave the location vacant.

Van Hook said in 2016 on a “regular basis” two and occasionally three crossing guard intersections would go uncovered in a day.

“This would require a community service officer, or two-three of the five police officers to be taken out of service to cover all calls for service,” he said. “This includes the 2 to 3:30 p.m. time period, when the police department receives its second largest call volume of the day. The absence of officers to respond to these calls will, in turn, result in a vast reduction in the services provided to the citizens, and a decrease in officer safety.”

What do other cities do?

Van Hook said 11 police agencies and three Missouri police agencies were contacted for Crossing Guard Program data.

Seven out of the 11 Illinois police agencies do not administer/manage a Crossing Guard Program. The Crossing Guard Programs within these police jurisdictions are managed and funded 100 percent by the local school districts. These seven police agencies included Collinsville, Edwardsville, Troy, Lebanon, East St. Louis, Alton and Fairview Heights.

All three Missouri police agencies — Ferguson, Hazelwood and Florissant — indicated that they do no fund and/or manage a crossing program, he said.

Van Hook said if the city decides to continue to fund the Crossing Guard Program, it should be administered by the school districts.

“The school districts will benefit from the city’s funding of the program, and the city will benefit from increased availability of command police officers, patrol officers and community service officers by being relieved of the administration of the program,” he said.

If the city council decides to eliminate the funding and administration of the Crossing Guard Program, Van Hook said the city will explore other alternatives to address safety around the schools and crossing locations.

“The city might explore solar lighted signage (stop signs or pedestrian signs). Police officers could also teach students how to safely cross the street, and extra patrols in and around the schools during transition times,” he said.