"We certainly appreciate the job they do. They do a fantastic job, the weather, the people, everything," said Dumas Independent School District (DISD) Police Department Chief Larry Payne. He was talking about the DISD employees who also work as crossing guards helping elementary and intermediate school children cross particularly dangerous intersections as they make their way to and from school. They were at Dumas Junior High School on Thursday for a meeting and training session. "I told them, 'God bless you, because I know what it is like to be out there.' " In the early days of his career as a Dumas Police Department officer, the agency he worked for before moving to the DISD, Payne sometimes had to pull crosswalk duty on the northern end of Dumas Avenue. He remembers that not all drivers were willing to obey the law, and not all drivers were respectful, even to someone wearing the uniform and badge of a DPD officer.
Payne says today's crosswalk guards sometimes face similar hardships, but the DISD is willing to take people to court to protect them. "We have cases where the driver gets upset and curses the crosswalk guard … all the guard is trying to do is keep the kids safe. We do not tolerate that kind of behavior towards our crosswalk guards. The crosswalk guard notifies us, and we will visit with drivers, and in some cases (file) criminal charges. Those crosswalk guards didn't sign on to be treated like that."
Payne says drivers approaching a crosswalk have a legal obligation to stop and yield if they see the guard with children or even children alone seeking to cross the street. Those who do not, face a fine for failing to stop of $235, and Payne says they prosecute cases every year. A motorist who hits someone in the crosswalk faces "significant felony charges." So far, no child has been killed or injured in a crosswalk.
The responsibility for safety on the streets is not just borne by motorists, however. Payne points out that the only places a pedestrian may legally cross a street is at a crosswalk or intersection. Getting caught jaywalking can cost a pedestrian $100, and a jaywalker who causes vehicles to stop can see the ticket rise to a $165 impeding traffic charge.
Payne says there is more to the job of crosswalk guard than just assisting children across the intersection. In addition to reporting bad drivers, the crosswalk guards watch for and report suspicious activity around the schools. They build a rapport with the children they help every day and acquire information that the police department can use to enhance safety. They notice bruises and changes in the children that can be indicators of child abuse and alert authorities.
The guards, all women at this time, have passed background checks. In addition to their duties as crosswalk guards, the are all employees in various capacities of the DISD. As required by the State of Texas and the federal government, the crossing guards must undergo training and receive a certification.
The current crosswalk guard program has been in effect since the spring of 2008 when the DISD instituted a "school safety zone project" in conjunction with the Cities of Dumas and Cactus. Deploying adult crosswalk guards at certain intersections was one of four components of the project. The others were more extensive pavement markings, signs designating school safety zones, and in an effort to relieve traffic congestion, some streets turned into temporary or permanent one-way streets.
Efforts to reduce congestion around the Dumas Intermediate School by turning some of the streets around the school into temporary one-way streets proved unsuccessful two years ago.