An ordinance passed by Metro Council Thursday night will give the Louisville Metro Police Department more flexibility in hiring school crossing guards.
The ordinance will expressly allow LMPD to contract with police departments in Jefferson County’s independent cities or third-party staffing companies to fill vacant crossing guard positions. Officials in charge of LMPD’s Support Bureau said last month that about 30 public schools were likely to go without crossing guards due to staffing problems.
Council member Markus Winkler, of District 17, voted in favor of the ordinance. He said Metro Government already had the ability to contract with other entities for crossing guards under the current collective bargaining agreement, but he hopes the ordinance puts pressure on LMPD and Mayor Greg Fischer to address the issue.
“I don’t know if it was a lack of understanding, or a lack of urgency, or a lack in leadership, but [the shortage] shouldn’t have gotten to the point where it is,” he said. “It is incumbent on the administration to fix this issue as soon as possible.”
Winkler shared a video with his colleagues last week that showed a recent incident where a student was struck by a driver at an intersection in Anchorage, which is part of the district he represents. The child, who was riding a bike in a crosswalk when they were hit, didn’t have any serious injuries, Winkler said.
“That child was riding home from school at an intersection where my children ride their bike home every single day,” he said. “I think it fundamentally underscored the point of what we are talking about here and why it’s so critical.”
The ordinance, which Metro Council approved unanimously on Thursday, also spells out that Louisville Metro Government is responsible for providing traffic guards for all public schools, including those in Jefferson County’s independent cities.
District 19 Council member Anthony Piagentini, who sponsored the ordinance, said that’s been the arrangement since the 2004 merger, but it hasn’t been codified until now.
“What it prevents is any current or future mayor from making a unilateral decision to pull traffic guards arbitrarily from schools that need them,” Piagentini said.
At a meeting of the Public Safety Committee in August, LMPD Support Bureau’s Lt. Col. Andy McClinton told Metro Council members that the agency has just 85 crossing guards to cover 116 public schools and 25 private schools. A spokesperson for LMPD said Thursday the agency has lost three additional crossing guards since then. They currently have roughly 30 vacant positions, leaving about the same number of schools without anyone to ensure students are safely navigating city streets.
“We have been trying for the past year, year and a half to hire more traffic guards,” McClinton said. “Like everyone else, we’re having a horrible time because people aren’t coming out to get jobs, they’re staying home.”
McClinton said LMPD will not be able to cover those vacancies with sworn police officers, because there is also a shortage of officers. LMPD and police union officials have said the department is currently short about 250 officers.
“We would not be able to send an officer to every school,” McClinton said. “We do not have the staffing, unfortunately. We have to have the officers on the streets responding to calls for service.”
Jefferson County Public Schools is barred by state law from using its own money to pay for school crossing guards. Multiple Kentucky attorneys general have held that school districts can only spend money for “educational purposes” and cannot hire employees to patrol public streets.