LAS VEGAS — While heavy auto traffic around Clark County elementary schools is creating chaos and endangering children, school district police spend time on Nevada desert highways, running traffic stings on motorists.
Multiple stories and letters to the editor in the Las Vegas Review-Journal and Sun last week reported serious issues with traffic around schools.
Yet, as documented by this video — taken by a passerby last Wednesday — Clark County School District police were out beyond the 93/95 Searchlight exchange on the road into Boulder City, hoping along with Henderson, Metro and Highway Patrol officers to nab careless motorists.
The area is listed as a “speed trap” on the website U.S. Speed Trap Exchange.
The Las Vegas Sun reported this weekend that Fred Peters, a concerned grandparent on a “self-appointed mission,” routinely stands in a crosswalk outside his granddaughter’s elementary school holding a stop sign — just so children can get safely across the street after school lets out.
“I don’t want to wait until we see somebody get run over or killed before we do something,” Peters told the Sun. Peters hasn’t gotten much of a response from elected officials, the school district, Metro Police or school district police regarding the traffic nightmare at Wright Elementary School.
The Sun article described traffic chaos with a hundred cars parked in a no-parking zone, waiting to pick up kids, while cars “stuck in the pileup” maneuver “around the narrow street any way they can, even if it requires an unsafe U-turn or a stop in the middle of a crosswalk or driveway.”
Initially, Wright’s principal, Carol Erbach, would go to the back of the school herself to direct traffic and help kids cross the street. Then she was informed that employees aren’t allowed to leave school grounds for “liability” reasons.
It’s an all-too-familiar story for many folks in the valley. On Wednesday, the R-J noted that police are investigating the crosswalk crash the previous Friday that killed one girl and severely injured two others. Six years before that, two Clark County School District middle schoolers, 11-year-old Amanda Aragon and 12-year-old Timothy Hill, were killed in two separate traffic incidents as they walked to school.
“Everything that [Sun] article mentions, I’ve experienced,” says Gina Greisen, parent of a former Tomiyasu Elementary School student.
In 2005, Greisen was where Peters is now, she told Nevada Journal. Like Peters, she also was known for her tenacity and impatience. And after getting the same “liability” excuses from CCSD officials that Peters received, Greisen also took off on her own “self-appointed mission.”
For over a year, she pushed the school district to address traffic safety at her daughter’s school. Just days before Amanda Aragon was killed, Greisen finally got media attention on Tomiyasu’s traffic nightmares — parking in no-parking zones, parking in cross-walks, double parking.
A month later, she organized parents in a ticketing campaign, issuing fake tickets to vehicles breaking traffic laws outside the school. Then, after months of relentless work, Greisen organized Look-Out Kids-About (LOKA), a coalition, still in existence today, of public officials, community partners and parents focused on safe routes to school and school-zone safety.
That coalition, says Greisen, “was put together to address exactly every issue in that [Sun] article.”
In fact, it was Greisen and her coalition, including CCSD officials, that initiated the idea of giving school police authority to issue traffic citations on roadways adjacent to schools.
“Children were dying,” explains Greisen. “If giving school police authority to issue tickets in school zones could save lives, I was all for it.”
In 2007, the Nevada Legislature granted authority “on the streets that are adjacent to the school property, buildings and facilities within the school district for the purpose of issuing traffic citations for violations of traffic laws and ordinances during the times that the school is in session or school-related activities are in progress” to school district police officers.
Which, brings us back to Peters.
As this weekend’s Sun article indicates, school district staff are still prohibited from traffic control, and Wright Elementary School remains the most crowded elementary school in the district — with over 1,100 students (900 of whom walk). Moreover, the poor traffic design results in hordes of cars parking in no-parking zones, making unsafe U-turns and stopping in the crosswalks.
So why aren’t school police enforcing the traffic laws at Wright before and after school?
After all, wasn’t it to avoid these very circumstances that CCSD sought — and received — authority from the Nevada Legislature for school police to issue traffic citations on roadways adjacent to schools?
“This bill is about safety and nothing more,” Craig Kadlub, then CCSD’s director of government affairs, told the Senate Committee on Human Resources and Education in 2007. “Every year we see multiple incidents where children are struck by cars and sometimes fatally. … The back of the bill says it would allow school police to have jurisdiction on streets contiguous to these schools and during times when school functions are in session.”
“This is about parents that double- and triple-park, make illegal U-turns, park in the crosswalks, et cetera. The officers would not be engaged in anything out in the community,” Kadlub told the Assembly Committee on Education. [Emphasis added]
So, why then, nearly five years later, is it necessary for Peters to stand in a school crosswalk, holding a stop sign, just so children leaving school can get across the street safely?
One reason is that, contrary to Kadlub’s assertions — and Nevada statutory law — school police are often busily engaged “out in the community,” rather than protecting kids in school zones.
The video mentioned above was taken around 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 26 by a passenger in a car on U.S. 93. It shows Clark County School District police “out in the community,” lined up for a traffic sting on the highway just beyond the 93/95 Searchlight exchange heading into Boulder City.
According to CCSD’s bell schedule for the 2011-12 school year, 108 elementary schools had afternoon kindergarten starting within 20 minutes of that video being taken.
Roughly two hours later, as the same passerby returned along that stretch of highway, as shown in this video, CCSD police were still engaged in the traffic sting. Meanwhile, across the Las Vegas Valley, 60 elementary schools, let out an estimated 39,000 primary-school students, between 2 pm and 2:50 pm.
Says Greisen: “It’s that 20 minutes of chaos — utter chaos — before and after school, when school police are most needed to issue traffic tickets and educate parents on school-zone safety.“
While CCSD school police are content to leave traffic safety around chaotic schools in the hands of a few conscientious volunteers like Peters, their actual legal authority to be writing tickets “out in the community” away from schools is dubious.