Making corners, and their guards, a little safer

Posted: February 23, 2012

WILLIE FULLWOOD frets about what happens when she's not around.

A crossing guard at Crittenden and Johnson streets in Mount Airy, she feels as much a crime-deterrent as she does a kid-

protector.

"A lot of the crime in the area doesn't take place when I am there," said Fullwood, 81, who with 39 years on the job is among the city's most veteran crossing guards. "The criminals, they know my schedule."

Still, at least she's there.

About 120 of 1,037 intersections in the city that have been determined to need crossing-guard protection for public, parochial and charter schools have no guards.

"We're trying to get the corners filled, but we haven't had any new crossing guards hired since last [school] year," said Joan Gallagher, president of the guards' union.

Gallagher blamed the city's financial woes for department heads citywide holding off on hiring.The Police Department didn't respond to repeated requests for comment.

Statistics suggest the walk to and from school can be perilous - for children and crossing guards alike.

Seventy-five students have been hit by vehicles in Philadelphia in the past three years, including 15 this school year, according to school-district data.

Nine crossing guards died nationally last year after getting hit by cars or trucks, and 340 others were injured, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Philadelphia hasn't seen a crossing guard killed since Juliet Owen was hit by a car in 2002, while on the job in Cedarbrook.

City police could not produce numbers that the Daily News had requested on vehicle accidents injuring city crossing guards.

But state leaders launched an effort this week to make school zones safer.

The Pennsylvania Safe Routes to School program began workshops yesterday aimed at standardizing training so that crossing guards throughout the state safeguard their communities more uniformly and effectively.

"You could go from one school zone to another, and crossing guards use different equipment, stand at different locations, use different strategies - people don't know what to look for," said Chris Metka, the program's Pennsylvania coordinator. "This is one way we're trying to correct that."

The training is voluntary. Gallagher said she doesn't expect Philly guards to participate, as they already have a training program and must pass the civil-service exam to become guards.

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