As students prepare to return to school, one of the top priorities for parents, teachers and administrators is student safety.
Dealing with the back-to-school rush, especially during the first week or two, can be a chaotic experience, says Cpl. Rich Ashcraft of Clovis Police Department.
“As the population of Clovis increases, the schools are getting more students and it seems every year we are just getting more and more traffic around the schools,” Ashcraft said. “Back in my day, a lot of kids walked to school, rode their bikes and you didn’t have as much traffic. Nowadays, there are just so many parents that drive their kids to school and it just creates a lot of traffic.”
To ensure everything runs as smooth as possible during this busy period, law enforcement officials like Ashcraft patrol school zones – most notably before and after school – to enforce the law.
Even while facing a shortage of officers, Clovis PD makes an effort to stop by each school.
“We have 28 schools in Clovis Unified that are in the city [limits] of Clovis,” Ashcraft said. Having a traffic officer or a motor officer at each one of those schools is impossible. For the first two weeks of school, we assign specific officers that are working day shift and we have some that hold over from our graveyard shifts to help us. During this time, we specifically have a big blitz of making sure that we do have officers at each of the schools, even if they’re just driving by on their way to another school.”
Once on site, officers look for any violations that they feel are going to equate into a “dangerous situation.” An example of this is distracted driving, one of the most common types of violations.
With cell phone usage more prevalent today, even in school zones, Clovis PD emphasizes to be on the lookout, have your heads up, and get unplugged from all potential distractions like phones, radios and in-vehicle entertainment systems.
“I’m more apt to give tickets in school zones as opposed to warnings because of the seriousness of where they’re at – the kids that are involved, the other drivers, the traffic congestion, things like that,” said Ashcraft. “We’re going to look for speed, we’re going to look for people violating crosswalk right-of-ways, and again, as much as I harp on it, a lot of it comes back to the cell phones. We have a lot of people that drive past our crosswalk guards because they’re looking at cell phones.”
Officers also enforce the 25 mile per hour speed limit at school zones when children are present. At Clark Intermediate, the school zone speed limit is enforced 24/7 due to its proximity to the Clovis Civic Center.
Even if school is out, the speed limit is still enforced if there are extracurricular activities on campus.
“It’s kind of broad [topic] and that’s one of the questions I always get: ‘Is it only [enforced] during school hours?’” Ashcraft said of the speed limit. “It’s kind of a gray area. You can have after school activities, a prom going on, things that might be on a Friday or Saturday night not within normal school hours but if you have kids walking around, especially on the sidewalk, it’s going to be considered a school zone. Especially in Clovis, we’re going to enforce it.”
To better serve the community, Clovis PD joins forces with CUSD to identify “hot spots.” Doing so helps the department tailor its services to areas with heavy traffic that need it the most.
“Clovis Unified is a big asset to us in helping us establish a lot of the ‘hot spots’ with heavy traffic congestion,” Ashcraft said. “They also, with us, put out a lot of effort, especially the first two weeks of school to be visible, to be seen so that parents, the public are aware that we’re out there and that school is back in session. School is back in session and you need to really have your head on a swivel, looking out for the kids.”