Chattanooga area school patrol officers keep kids safe

Chattanooga area school patrol officers keep kids safe

September 3rd, 2013 by Yolanda Putman in Local Regional News

School patrol officer Reginald Jordan Jr. monitors traffic in front of Orchard Knob Elementary School early Friday morning. Jordan is one of 30 current patrol officers, and the Chattanooga Police Department hopes to hire three more before the end of the year.

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

Being a school patrol officer is not for the faint of heart.

Every morning, Reginald Jordan Jr. is among more than 30 school patrol officers standing at busy local intersections and street corners to make sure children get safely to their schools.

If schools are open, patrol officers are in position in rain, sun, sleet or snow. Officers may take shelter in their cars if there's thunder and lightning, until a pedestrian comes.

But their first priority is to see that children are safe, said Jordan, school patrol officer for Orchard Knob Elementary and Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences.

"Cars don't see you until you are in front of their face," he said. "And it's not just your life; you've got these kids."

Chattanooga police Sgt. Cheryl Bryant, who supervises the program, said no patrol officer has been hit by a vehicle since the 1990s.

Patrol officers are part-time employees who are posted at every elementary school in the city and at some middle and high schools depending on traffic flow, she said.

Jordan said in the two years he's been working at Orchard Knob Elementary, he's never had an accident.

"This is a 15 mile-per-hour school zone," Jordan said. "Even if I wasn't here, you should have respect for kids."

But school patrol officer Derrick Choice, who mans crosswalks for the Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences and Brown Academy, said he almost got hit by a car last week.

Fifth grader Jacob Gilman, right, helps a younger student out of the car and directs traffic while participating in the Barger Academy of Fine Arts Safety Patrol early Thursday morning.

Fifth grader Jacob Gilman, right, helps a younger...

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

Drivers aren't paying attention to the signs, and "they are lightning fast," he said. They're texting, listening to the radio and talking on the cellphone.

"They are always talking on the phone," said Alma Carter, who patrols all the schools in the North Chattanooga area including Red Bank Elementary, Big Ridge Elementary and DuPont Elementary.

She's one of about five school patrol officers who have had their jobs for more than 20 years. Carter started in 1975.

Drivers were more attentive then because school patrol officers could give citations, she said.

"But they took that privilege away from us," she said. "Most people know we can't do anything now but slow them down."

Choice waved his hand at a woman in a blue van who kept coming toward him even though the traffic light at the intersection had turned red.

"You've got to get their attention," he said.

The best part about the job is getting to know the children, Jordan said.

Eight-year-old Serenity Clemons smiled and stretched out her arms as she walked in front of traffic, guarded by Jordan.

She was imitating Jordan, who walked beside her.

"I'm going to be a [crossing] guard, too," Serenity said.

The relationships developed with students make the danger worth it, said Everlina Spencer, a school patrol officer for 37 years who works at schools in the Brainerd area. She recalled having a student she described as "troubled," not minding her mom or behaving in school.

"I got to talking to her," Spencer said. "At the end of the year she hugged my neck and said thank you."

Some schools also use students to supplement safety patrols.

Barger Academy has two crossing guards, one on Brainerd Road and the other on North Moore, but eight students make up a safety patrol for the school's busy parking lot.

The safety patrol students open car doors for children and encourage them to exit on the right side of their cars, out of the path of other cars that may be trying to pass.

"I'm helping kids and making sure they are safe," said 10-year-old JaMichael Baxter, a member of the school safety patrol.

Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at yputman or 423-757-6431.