While local engineers and school officials are often seen as the key players in implementing Safe Routes to School (SRTS) programs, another vital resource can be found in your local police department. Traffic safety officers handle traffic problems and work at creating a safe environment for residents.
When asked how traffic safety officers can contribute to SRTS, Chief William J. Cicchetti, president of the New Jersey Police Traffic Officers’ Association, said that activities related to SRTS programs are already a primary concern of traffic safety officers. Traffic safety officers respond to traffic and crime, and make sure routes to school are safe. In addition, the officers are responsible for training and observing school crossing guards. With recent studies showing that injuries to crossing guards have increased 65 percent over the last decade, training has become increasingly important (see sidebar).
SRTS programs help make the job easier for traffic safety officers because students and parents with proper pedestrian and bicycle skills and training are key to making the trip to and from school safe. According to Cicchetti, SRTS has been especially effective in helping traffic safety officers identify areas of concern by bringing together various groups of people with different skills and experiences to work on a common goal. “Different groups of people may not always observe the same things,” Cicchetti noted.
Cicchetti stressed the importance of students getting involved in SRTS. “SRTS programs can help get the perspective of the kids,” he explained. “Schools, parents, and law enforcement working together can help ensure that an identified safe route is also safe in the eyes of the children as well.” This is important because children are really at the heart of SRTS. “Kids are our most precious commodity,” Cicchetti said. “Getting kids
safely from home to school is my top concern.”
Detective Bill Zimmerman of the Wharton Police Department is also supportive of involving traffic safety officers in SRTS. Zimmerman says, “Traffic safety officers are great for Safe Routes to School because they deal with traffic concerns every day and are most knowledgeable from seeing it firsthand.” Zimmerman explained that, as a result of the police department’s dedication to SRTS programs, a traffic safety officer is always present to see that children in Wharton arrive safely to school. As a traffic safety officer, Zimmerman said, he has noticed how simple infrastructure changes funded by programs like SRTS, such as crosswalk and sidewalk improvements, can make a great difference and contribute to safer trips to and from school.
Detective Lisa Perrotta, traffic safety officer of the Westfield Police Department, offered similar insight as she talked about how her duties have involved overseeing crossing guards. Over the past two years, the Westfield Police Department, especially Perrotta, has created an intensive training program for crossing guards. In addition, they have purchased lime green jackets, stop paddles, and whistles to properly equip crossing guards for the job. The Westfield police supervise over 60 crossing guards, making sure the guards are properly handling their posts by standing out in the streets and using their stop paddles.
“My main concerns for children walking to and from school is that they learn how to cross properly and listen to the crossing guards,” Perrotta said. “For kids who ride their bike to school, helmet safety is important.” Perrotta finds that Safe Routes to School in Westfield has been a positive program, and intends to build on it by implementing a walking school bus.