Chicago Pulls Back on Safe Passage Staffing

Two months after Chicago's school year began, the city is pulling back on non-public safety workers staffing the Safe Passage routes that remain in place to ensure children's safety to and from school.

The change comes after Chicago Public Schools said only half of the children expected to attend new welcoming schools actually made the switch.

NBC 5 Investigates has learned the city workers from two departments -- building inspectors and Streets and Sanitation -- are no longer assigned to Safe Passage.

Late Friday afternoon the city confirmed Streets and San workers are no longer working the routes. Next week recruits from the police academy are moving to a 12-week training program. The city says it will continue to monitor the program's needs.

CPS poured $233 million into renovations at welcoming schools, including upgrades for new iPads, air conditioning and safety programs. On the first day of school, there was an all-out city response, including helicopters flying over the school that Mayor Rahm Emanuel visited. 

That first day was quite a show of force, from the mayor walking with students to their new schools after 50 public schools had been closed, to firefighters manning the new Safe Passage routes.

The city also hired 600 monitors to watch children as they traveled to and from school, budgeting nearly $16 million for the program.

On the city's South Side Friday morning, those monitors remain on the job, along with police officers who are assigned to the school, and aren't allowed to move during the Safe Passage hours.

There are also those who collect a city paycheck. Some non-public safety workers were taken from their posts and mobilized to take part in the Safe Passage program, including those from the city's building department.

We wanted to know about the job of inspecting buildings. How could they inspect and be stationed to school routes?      

A Freedom of Information request showed a decrease in the number of permit inspectors year over year. There were 7,671 permit inspections and reinspections in September 2012, while there were 6,782 in September 2013.

That's nearly 900 less for just one month.

As of this week we learned those building inspectors assigned to Safe Passage have been called back to their original jobs.

"We adjusted staffing of non-public safety workers on Safe Passage," the city said in a statement. "Instead of workers being assigned to one school, workers are assigned to zones."

While there have been skirmishes along Safe Passage routes, no major crimes have been reported. Parents still offer mixed reaction to whether the program is effective, though.

"Once I learned my way, how to get to the school, and seeing the Safe Passage signs, it helped me a lot," parent Orzella Denton said.

"There haven't been any problems, but I won't let my kid walk to school alone," parent Ashley Brock said. "They really don't watch him." 

Other Safe Passage changes involve Chicago police officers. More than 100 are still assigned to the routes throughout the city since the school year started. Some of them tell us they've been told they will report back to the original assignment and rotate one week a month on Safe Passage.

The fire department is peeling back a bit as well, but in some cases their workers are still out on the routes rather than in fire houses.

It's not clear whether more changes are ahead. While $16 million was budgeted for this program, nearly half the students choose not to go to the welcoming school and therefore are not using the Safe Passage routes. 

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