BALDWIN, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) – Nassau County’s police union is sounding the alarm on what they call a public safety issue.

They say their members are forced to act as crossing guards instead of fighting crime – because of a crossing guard shortage.

When it’s dismissal time at Plaza Elementary School in Baldwin, a crossing guard is there to help students safely cross the street.

School crossing guard in Nassau County. (Credit: CBS2)

The Nassau Police Benevolent Association says that’s the way it should be, but outside many other schools, that’s not the case.

“Somebody could get hurt. Someone could possibly die if we don’t fix this,” Nassau PBA president James McDermott said.

The PBA and the union representing crossing guards said, because of a county-wide shortage, police officers are often forced to fill in for civilian crossing guards.

They claim to have pulled double-duty 14,700 times so far this year.

Police officers acting as school crossing guards on Long Island due to the shortage of civilian employees. (Credit: CBS2)

“Police officers’ jobs are not to cross children. They fight crime. They enforce the law,” CSEA Local 830 president Jerry Laricchiuta said.

Nassau County police commissioner Patrick Ryder admits the PBA does have a point. He said the county is having a hard time hiring crossing guards.

“The PBA’s argument is not incorrect. It’s not from a lack of trying. It’s not from the county exec not wanting to hire. It’s just at this time we don’t get those to take the job,” Commissioner Ryder said.

Ryder added the job used to be full-time with benefits, but now they only hire part-time with no benefits – a change the prior Mangano administration made to save money.

Ryder said they currently have about 50 crossings that are covered by cops.

“A police officer that is covering that crossing will not be out there doing his patrol duties. The safety and security of our children is priority so we make sure the posts are covered,” Ryder explained.

The union added that officers are then forced to respond from further away when someone calls 911; pointing to examples like a horrific car accident last Halloween in Elmont.

They believe the department should be doing more to fill the jobs or at least staff them with extra officers on duty.

Commissioner Ryder said despite the crossing guard shortage, crime is still down in the county.

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