Police Patrols Ensure Safe Passage to Schools

The chaos was barely controlled on Winston Avenue one recent weekday morning. It serves as a primary entry point to San Marino High School, and at 7:50 a.m., students streamed down the sidewalks, over the parkway, through the alley. They crossed in the middle of the block, between idling vehicles in the clogged traffic. They walked, pedaled bicycles, rolled by on skateboards.
If there was any semblance of order at all, it was surely because Police Officer Kevin Cordischi was parked at the curb in his patrol SUV, surveying the scene from southbound Winston.
“I’m glad you guys are here,” SMHS government teacher Peter Paccone called from the open window of his car as he crept by.
The SMPD is definitely out in force on school mornings. Officers patrol the high school and Huntington Middle School leading up to the 8 a.m. start of classes, then monitor the routes to Carver and Valentine Elementary Schools, both of which get started a half-hour later.
“We try to make our presence known so people don’t drive crazy,” Cordischi said as he turned his vehicle onto Huntington Drive, “but there’s always going to be those few people. They know exactly how much time it takes to get to work, and that’s how much time they allow. They’ve got to get there right now.”
And there went some now, flowing west on Huntington on the other side of the median. Cordischi executed a U-turn at Gainsborough Drive and pulled to the curb near the high school’s Webb Theater. It was uncanny how quickly that stream of traffic slowed to a sensible pace.
The officer smiled and said, “The police presence always helps. No one likes to get those tickets, so it’s always a deterrent.”
The cost of the SMPD’s increased presence was covered by a Safe Routes to School grant in recent years, but the money has run out. “It was well-received by the schools and mostly by the parents,” Police Chief John Incontro said. “We wanted to continue it though we didn’t have the cash to pay overtime.”
The department’s No. 1 priority, he continued, is making sure people feel safe and responding to calls for service, but safeguarding kids’ transit to school is a close second.
The drop-off at the schools in the morning tends to be pretty orderly, Cordischi said, because parents generally comply with the system in place to keep things flowing at each site: no left turn off West Drive into HMS, no left turn off Virginia Road into Valentine, for example. At the high school, the half-circle drive at the front of the school and the single-file entry into the Winston alley tend to keep things pretty civilized, and the congestion in general just before the 8 a.m. bell slows down commuters bound for downtown Los Angeles.
Perhaps the best example of community cooperation for school safety, however, occurs every Friday morning on four key pedestrian routes to Carver. Students, school staff, parent volunteers and police collaborate in a program called the Walking School Bus.
A cluster of students heads toward school, with a parent leader at the front and another trailing as the “caboose.” Other students come up adjacent streets, often accompanied by a parent, and join in, and the ranks swell as the group gets closer to campus.
This, too, began as part of the Safe Routes to School program, but it has carried on because it proved so popular. Eric Griffis, who co-chairs the Safety Crew with wife Mei, said there has been a big jump in participation this year, with 55% of Carver’s students now walking in the human “bus” each Friday.
Incentives are in place to get kids to engage in this morning exercise. After 10 such walks to school, a participant receives a T-shirt. The Elite Walkers — with at least 25 trips in a school year — are treated to an ice cream party. Also, the Golden Shoe trophy is awarded to a different class at Carver each week.
“We have kids who are dropped off by parents from practically every grade,” Griffis said. “Half will walk with their kids [to school]. Others will drop them off. It’s a great way for kids to gain some independence. The idea of safety in numbers is real at that point.”
Still, the concept of kindergartners and 1st-graders walking along a busy thoroughfare like Huntington Drive might be a bit daunting for some parents. That’s why the presence of about a dozen adult volunteers is comforting, and why the participation of the SMPD is critical.
As the kids prepare to cross one of the several north-south feeders to Huntington Drive — Rubio and Mirasol Drives, Bradbury, Bellwood and other roads — the officers pull their patrol vehicles into the intersection with lights flashing to get the attention of approaching cars. The officers leap-frog one another, so that while one vehicle guards an intersection in this fashion, another is proceeding to the one ahead. And when the mob of Walking School Bus kids comes down Palomar Road and crosses Huntington, an officer positions his vehicle in the middle of the boulevard.
“It doesn’t feel dangerous, mainly because of the police presence and the adult volunteers there the whole way,” Griffis said. “Without the police, I don’t think the routes would get quite as big participation.”
As Cordischi pulled up to the intersection at Bellhaven Road, a white SUV rushed up to the intersection. The driver slammed to a stop and turned ashen as she glanced left and saw the idling police vehicle at the edge of the intersection. One got the distinct impression that had this encounter not occurred, she would have rolled the stop and sped on.
“The last thing you want to see,” Cordischi said, “is someone not paying attention to children and taking a right turn a little too quickly, because you wake up and your mind starts going in 1,000 different places, and you might not be paying attention.”
As the Carver students poured into the intersection and crossed Bellhaven, several hopped up to look into the patrol car. Some waved to the officer. At the busy, wide crossing at San Gabriel Boulevard, Cordischi personally escorted the kids into the crosswalk, joining the crossing guards and Walking School Bus volunteers to usher the children over the last stretch to school.
“Especially with the elementary schools and the middle school,” Cordischi said once he was back behind the wheel, “we try to let them know we’re not the bad guys. If they ever need to talk to us or anything, the last thing I want is for them to be afraid of me.”

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