by David Michael Courtland

According to an Oxnard School District trustee, the OSD’s deal with the Oxnard Police Department for three school resource officers is a bad one.

In the wake of the Sept. 30 death of an 8-year-old boy struck in a crosswalk at the intersection of Cooper Road and Anita Avenue, trustee Denis O’Leary has campaigned for the change on local radio and at the Oct. 9 school board meeting.

“At the end [of the meeting], while the other trustees were giving their ‘thoughts and prayers,’ I called for a reversal of the MOU [memorandum of understanding] with the Oxnard Police Department,” said O’Leary.

The money OSD is spending on school resource officers — $405,300 per year for three years — would be better spent on crossing guards, O’Leary said.

“I truly think that if we had better governance this may not have happened,” said O’Leary, who was the lone dissenter when the agreement was approved 4-1 at the board’s May 15 meeting. “I believe that our community is better served with the same amount of money going to crossing guards than having three police officers roving between 21 schools.”

But Oxnard police and city officials said although the school resource officers (SROs) are spread thin, they provide campus safety and conduct presentations on youth-related issues.

“They bring a lot of value,” said Assistant Chief of Police Eric Sonstegard, who acknowledged that while having more crossing guards might be feasible, funding them might be an issue.

“It’s like other things,” Sonstegard continued. “We want more police officers, more crossing guards. The question is, how are you going to pay for it?”

Oxnard Police Commander Denise Shadinger, who runs the department’s traffic division, said hiring more crossing guards wouldn’t be as simple as redirecting the money for SROs. He said that state law requires crossing guards to have special training, and they are only assigned to intersections according to state guidelines.

“A school will request, or there will be a need for assessment” of traffic at an intersection, Shadinger said. “It has to meet certain criteria for assignment of a crossing guard.”

One of those criteria are that crossing guards can’t be placed closer than 600 feet apart, meaning one couldn’t have been assigned to the scene of the Sept. 30 accident. Because there are already guards at two nearby intersections, it doesn’t fit the criteria, Shadinger explained.

Eight-year-old Alexander Vasquez, his mother and 9-year-old sister were on their way to Cesar Chavez School around 7:40 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 30, when they were struck by a 2002 Chevrolet van in the crosswalk at the intersection of Cooper Road and Anita Avenue.

Alexander went into cardiac arrest and was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead. His mother and sister were seriously injured but are recovering.

Police say the 17-year-old girl driving the van didn’t have a license and may have been blinded by sunlight as she turned into the intersection, which has no stop signs for east- or westbound traffic.

Mayor Pro Tem Carmen Ramirez put the tragedy in context, noting that similar intersections throughout the city have led to many such accidents in recent years.

“We’ve had a lot of pedestrian fatalities all over the city for a long time,” said Ramirez, who attended Alexander Vasquez’s funeral. She suggested designating pedestrian-only zones at schools might be a way to reduce fatalities.

“It would be nice if people didn’t have to take their cars; maybe there could be an exclusion zone,” Ramirez said.

Mayor Tim Flynn also suggested pedestrian-only zones for schools.

“I think what cities and schools should do is close down [to automobiles] and have drop-off points where children can be safe,” said Flynn, who defended the SRO concept.

“I think the SRO idea is a good one,” Flynn said. “They’re dealing with all kinds of things, abuse at home, those cops are like social workers. I don’t see replacing these cops with crossing guards, the need is too great.”