OAKDALE — The school crossing guards on F Street may be the only ones in the state who carry guns.
That's because they are police officers.
For an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon during school days, three patrol officers help children cross busy F Street, also known as Highway 108-120, at three intersections.
Officers have been working as crossing guards after the Police Department laid off its last three part-time civilian crossing guards as part of budget cuts because of the recession. The department cut 15 percent — or $700,000 — from its current budget, which started July 1.
The cuts were deep but spared laying off any of the department's 26 sworn officers.
City Manager Steve Hallam said as part of the proposal to eliminate the crossing guards, the Oakdale Police Officers Association said it would find volunteers through the PTA to work as crossing guards, or officers would perform the task.
"We had a total of three parents volunteer," Hallam said, adding officials soon realized they would need 25 to 30 volunteers to make the program work. "We did not anticipate that the officers would be the ones who would be doing this nor did the OPOA."
So when classes resumed in August, officers started helping children cross F Street at Johnson, Mann and Lee avenues.
"We've taken some razzing for this from some of the other local (law enforcement) agencies," said OPOA President Joe Parreira. But he added Oakdale officers were willing to do what they had to do protect their jobs and protect residents during tough budget times.
Hallam and Police Chief Marty West said some residents have complained that crossing guard duty is not the best use of officers' time and training, but the two added that the response has been mostly positive.
"It's not hard duty, that's for sure," said Cpl. Joe Johnson, the OPOA secretary. "Some days you cross three kids. But it's a matter of, 'Could we do something better with our time?' "
West and Hallam said having officers work as crossing guards has not jeopardized public safety.
"There were no major problems," Parreira said, "but the potential was there."
The Police Department has more officers assigned to patrol because of a reorganization that accompanied the budget cuts.
There are four officers and a watch commander assigned to patrol all day, up from three officers and the watch commander. West added that he and the department's two lieutenants have even worked as crossing guards when needed.
The City Council has charged the Police Department with providing crossing guards on F Street since the mid-1990s after a schoolgirl was hit by a car.
There had been no crossing guards on F Street before the accident.
But the officers' days of holding up stop signs in crosswalks may be ending. Hallam said the city and Oakdale Joint Unified School District have a deal in which they would split evenly the $22,000 annual cost of using part-time city recreation workers as crossing guards.
Hallam said the school board has approved the deal. The proposal is on the City Council's agenda for tonight's meeting.
Parreira said Sunday that the OPOA has accepted the proposal and its members will be briefed on it this week.
The proposal calls for the recreation workers to take up crossing guard duty in January after students return from winter break.
"In the long term, I do not believe it is in the public's best interest to have our officers as crossing guards," Hallam said. "Does it have some positive PR? Absolutely. But I want our officers to do what they are trained to do."
Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2316.