November 24, 2021

Princeton Needs More Crossing Guards, and a Member of Council Steps Up

ON THE JOB: Shown at his current post at Snowden Lane and Abernathy Drive, Councilperson David Cohen recently decided to take on a shift as a crossing guard. The town is looking to fill 10 more vacancies that are currently being covered by police officers.

By Anne Levin

During the “announcements/reports” portion of the November 8 Princeton Council meeting, Council member David Cohen reported to his colleagues and the public that he had signed on as a crossing guard for the Princeton Police Department. His post, currently at Snowden Lane and Abernathy Drive, means one less police officer having to staff the town’s crossings and intersections as children make their way to and from local schools.

Cohen urged others to follow his lead and consider taking on the morning and afternoon shifts, which pay $15 for 30 minutes and $22 for 45 minutes. “It’s really a feel-good activity,” he said. “The kids and parents are really appreciative.”

Keeping the town staffed with crossing guards has been an ongoing challenge for the police department. Those who are hired have to be able to escort children across designated crossing zones, stop traffic efficiently in all weather conditions, be able to communicate with children and parents, report license plate number of vehicles that don’t slow down or stop where they should, report suspicious activity, report unsafe traffic conditions in school crossing zones, and more.

Before being assigned to a post, crossing guards get a few hours of training and a packet of information with background on the specific duties involved. They get a physical to test hearing and vision. “Once you’ve passed those two hurdles, you start on-the-job training, which is required, for 20 hours,” said Cohen, a few days after starting the job. “You start getting paid as soon as you start. It’s not volunteer work. It’s actually a decent wage — $30 an hour.”

Cohen, a retired architect, has been considering becoming a crossing guard for a few years. “The issue really came to my attention through my work with the Pedestrian Bicycle Advisory Committee,” he said. “That committee gets concerned pleas from residents about intersections they think need a crossing guard. We ask police and they say, ‘We’re so understaffed. Every officer is doing it because not enough community members are doing it.’ So I have been really aware of the need.”

Because of afternoon meetings he frequently attends, Cohen assumed he didn’t have the time. But he arranged with Sergeant Thomas Murray, of the police department’s traffic safety bureau, to work mornings, letting him know at the beginning of each week which afternoons he can be available. “Every shift helps,” Cohen said.

Crossing guards get a raincoat, reflective vest, a baseball cap that says “crossing guard,” gloves if needed, and a stop sign, furnished by the police department.

“I have always admired the PFARS (Princeton First Aid and Rescue Squad) volunteers and the fire department volunteers, but felt that those kinds of commitments were beyond my capability,” said Cohen. “But this is really very doable. It’s something anybody can do with the training they give. It’s excellent, and it gives you confidence. The first day, I was kind of nervous. But I had been prepared.”

Cohen experienced a challenge when a bicyclist was coming from one direction, and a school bus from the other direction. “You don’t want to stop the bus,” he said. “So I had to figure out when to have them enter the intersection. But I had been trained for something like this, so it worked out okay.”

Morning shifts are from 8-8:30 a.m. or 7:45-8:30 a.m. Afternoons, guards work 2:55-3:25 p.m. or 3-3:45 p.m. Visit and type “crossing guard” into the search bar for more information.

“This is something that is really needed and appreciated,” said Cohen. “I hope more people will consider doing it. It feels really good to have this way of serving the town.”