Police boost school zone presence for back to school

Police departments in the West Valley are increasing the presence of officers around schools in an annual effort to remind drivers to be extra cautious when driving around children.

Six departments in the West Valley — El Mirage, Glendale, Goodyear, Peoria, Surprise and Tolleson — said they will be increasing enforcement in some capacity. This not only includes stricter law enforcement, but also aiding with pickups and drop-offs and working with schools and parents to promote safety techniques.

The departments said the efforts are aimed at keeping children safe by raising awareness of the dangers of mixing pedestrian, vehicle and bicycle traffic.

“Children have a mind of their own and might just run out into traffic; you just never know,” said Sgt. Obed Gaytan, spokesman for the Tolleson Police Department. “Anytime you’re dealing with children, we as adults always have the greater responsibility to ensure their safety, no matter whose children they are.”

The importance of school zone safety is part of an annual state-wide push from the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety to promote safety in and around schools, said Governor’s Office of Highway Safety Director Alberto Gutier. The department gave out more than $5.2 million in grants to 131 organizations around the state last year for school safety programs.

Starting this year, they gave $250,000 in grants to departments in metro Phoenix for school zone, school bus and crossing safety programs, Gutier said. The money also covers overtime pay for extra enforcement around schools.

“We have to protect these children as much as we protect ourselves — that’s important to us,” he said.

Violations of school zone, school bus, crossing safety and other safety laws could result in fines of up to $500.

In the West Valley, both Glendale and Peoria Police Departments received grants for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins in October, Gutier said.

The Peoria Police Department received a grant, but officials won’t know the exact amount until next year, Officer Isabel Wolfe, a spokeswoman for the department, said. They plan to use the money for overtime pay for increased enforcement.

The Glendale Police Department received a $40,000 grant through the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety’s Safe Traffic Enforcement Program, Sgt. David Vidaure, a spokesman, said. The grant period runs from fall to fall.

They plan to use the money to increase the number officers around school zones, enforce school zone speed limits and crosswalk safety rules, and make sure children are secured in car seats and safety belts, according to a department release.

“It allows us to beef up the number of officers that are specifically targeting school zones for those times that are busy,” Vidaure said. “We really want people to know that we’re serious when it comes to the safety of our kids.”

The Glendale Police Department doesn’t do any in-school training for students about public safety. That burden typically falls on the school districts.

In the Glendale Elementary School District, schools go over safety details with students and parents during the first few weeks of school, said spokesman Jim Cummings. The district also includes a section about school zone safety in student handbooks.

Cummings said the response from drivers in the Glendale area has been great. “The area is well-marked and well-followed,” he said.

The only area of concern was on 67th Avenue just north of Missouri Avenue around William C. Jack Elementary School and Don Mensendick School, Cummings said. He estimated there was at least one accident a year at that intersection, including times where cars went through the chainlink fences.

While no kids were hurt in any of the accidents, the school petitioned for a grant to install a stoplight at the intersection and lower the speed limit, he said. They were able to redo the intersection about a year ago.

“Our fences are good but not that good — they won’t stop a car,” he said.

Cummings praised the Glendale Police Department’s enforcement in the school district, which encompasses 18 schools in the area.

“The Glendale (Police Department) has always been good,” he said. “You don’t want to be caught breaking a school zone law. … They’re doing a good job and we’re grateful for it.”