Think about the last time you crossed the street. If you were at a busy intersection, chances are that you relied on the street crossing light signals to tell you when it was safe to enter the crosswalk. Most schools, however, don’t have light signals. Instead, they rely on crossing guards to keep our children safe as they travel to and from school.
The City of Frederick and Frederick County have hired a private firm to manage its crossing guards. The crossing guard program, established in 2006 to improve the safety of school crossings, was until this August a publicly run program with twenty-three crossing guards guiding students at thirteen schools across the Frederick area. Now, All City Management Services, a private company based in California, will oversee the program. The company obtained its exclusive contracts without the standard bidding process, essentially prohibiting other businesses, perhaps more local ones, from competing for the opportunity to run the crossing guard program.
In their decision to outsource crossing guard management to the private sector, Frederick officials cited a need to alleviate overscheduled police officers of crossing duties. While one can agree that busy police officers need time to attend to more urgent safety matters than street crossings, the transition to a private crossing guard system devalues the hard work that goes into being a crossing guard. Under All City Management Services, Frederick crossing guards will only earn $20.65 an hour–less than the lowest hourly wage of Frederick police officers previously paid to perform the exact same duty.
Crossing guards are valuable members of our communities who put themselves in harm’s way to keep us safe. Without them, pedestrians, particularly unaccompanied children, are at an increased risk of vehicular accidents. According to sobering 2013 statistics from the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration, a pedestrian is killed in a vehicular accident every two hours and injured every eight minutes. Those figures amounted to a whopping 4,735 pedestrians killed an another 66,000 injured by cars across the United States in 2013.
Crossing guards play a particularly important role in the winter. As we approach the Winter Solstice on December 21, hours of daylight become increasingly shorter as the sun sets earlier and earlier. Today, on December 4, the sun will set on Maryland at 4:46 pm Eastern Standard Time. As a result of these earlier sunsets, the bulk of rush hour commutes home from work take place in the dark during the winter months. Not only does an early sunset make dangerous nighttime driving conditions start earlier in the day, but it also makes dusk, when the sun’s bright glare obscures drivers’ vision, come earlier. These winter driving conditions are deadly; nearly half of pedestrian deaths from December through February are the result of car crashes between 3 and 8:59 pm.
Frederick County School Board Member Joyce Schaefer expressed concern over the impact that privatization will have on traffic safety in Frederick. “I certainly hope that the quality and the consistency remains, even if we’re going to outsource this service,” she said, noting the outstanding performance of public employee crossing guards. “The crossing guards we have are not at little intersections. They’re very active.”
Crossing guards do more than just regulate the flow of traffic; they put their own lives at risk to help keep us safe. According to the Mutual Excess Liability Joint Insurance Fund Safety Institute, the rate of crossing guard accidents has risen 65% over the past two decades. Our crossing guards protect us from harm, and they deserve to be respected whether they are private or public employees.