Every morning, children who walk to school are familiar with the smiling, friendly faces and the outstretched arms of their local crossing guard who ensures they get safely to class each day during the school year.
But what do crossing guards do when school's out for summer?
At least some of the friendly faced school crossing guards are spending their summer vacation writing parking tickets to Chicago drivers on behalf of the city.
It began as a pilot program last summer, and as a way to give crossing guards a way to continue to bring in a paycheck when school was finished in June, according to Crossing Guard Coordinator John Maciezjewski, a retired police officer. This year it has been rolled out city wide to give summer employment opportunities to the over 1100 crossing guards working for the city.
Just Looking To Work
"Summer jobs are not plentiful," says 23rd District Crossing Guard Supervisor Irene Jurewicz. "And some of them (crossing guards) are left with no work at all. Crossing guards get no vacation time, no sick time. For most of them it's not what they want to do at all."
5th District Crossing Guard Supervisor Joyce Banks concurs with Jurewicz about crossing guards needing the work.
"If there's nothing (a job) awarded when they bid (for the job) they do it (take the ticket-writing position)," says Banks. "They look at it as a job."
According to 25th District Crossing Guard Supervisor John Jambrosek, the priority is to make sure there are enough crossing guard positions for the schools hosting summer school, before allowing crossing guards to work writing parking tickets. In fact, the west side police district does not have any crossing guards writing violations this year.
"We didn't have enough crossing guards to fill summer school duties," says Jambrosek who does not have any participating crossing guards this year. "Our main priority is to fill all the school crossing positions. In some districts they have fewer schools open for crossing guards. In this district we were eight short."
Crossing guards have to spend a day in ticket-writing training at the Chicago Police Academy before they are issued their ticket books and assigned either a four-hour morning shift from 6am to 10am or an evening shift from 3pm to 7pm. The crossing guard ticket-writing season parallels the six weeks of the city's summer school session.
Jurewicz says the four ticket-writing crossing guards she oversees are issuing the run-of-the-mill type parking violations.
"They just do parkers, not movers (moving violations)," says Jurewicz. "(They write) the obvious ones–street cleaning, tow zones, no parking anytime, expired meters, expired license plates."
Crossing Guard Program Generates Big Money For City
Each of Chicago's twenty-five police districts are allowed up to six ticket-writing crossing guards for the summer, which would add a theoretical maximum of 150 more ticket writers to the several hundred city employees already writing tickets across the city. This include close to 200 parking enforcement aides for the Department of Revenue; traffic management aides for SERCO, the private parking enforcement company contracted by the city; and ticket writers hired by LAZ Parking which enforce parking meter violations on behalf of Chicago Parking Meters, LLC.
"Some (districts) get more, some get less," 19th District Crossing Guard Supervisor Mary Ann Eagan explains how ticket-writing crossing guards are distributed between the different police districts. "It goes by seniority. Some (crossing guards) have small children and decide to stay home for the summer. Others want the work."
The Chicago Police Department's news affairs unit did not respond to our questions via email and telephone to get a total number of crossing guards issuing tickets. But our survey of a random sampling of police districts estimates between 50 and 75 crossing guards are on the ticket beat for the summer. Over the course of six weeks, that translates into thousands and thousands of parking violations, and hundreds of thousands of dollars of additional revenue for a cash starved city. Fifty crossing guards writing $50 tickets for six weeks could easily generate $500,000 to $750,000.
How does the image of the helpful crossing guard, shepherding young children to school square with leaving hundreds of costly bright orange parking tickets on the windshields of aggravated Chicago motorists?
"It's a little different for them," says Town Hall's Jurewicz. "At first it was kind of intimidating. They have the perception of helping children get to school. But once they got comfortable they were able to do the job."