NEW YORK (WABC) -- Eyewitness News has learned that Nassau County has been using its police officers to cover at least 50 vacant crossing guard positions on school days.
"The safety and security of our children is priority, so we make sure the posts are covered," said Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder.
Ryder said the county has 144 full-time crossing guards and 238 part-time. He said the county is only hiring at a part-time level, which has no benefits, so people aren't applying for the jobs. The position used to be full-time with benefits.
"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 just don't get those to take the job," Ryder said.
James McDermott, the head of the Nassau County Police Benevolent Association, said substituting police officers as crossing guards threatens the safety and security of Nassau County residents. Officers are prohibited from leaving the post for any reason.
"This issue puts the public in peril each and every day," McDermott said.
McDermott gave several examples of emergencies in which officers were unable to respond because they were on crossing guard posts. In one example from April 9, McDermott said someone had been stabbed in Roosevelt and 911 operators were desperately trying to find officers to respond because 18 of the First precinct's 22 units were on crossing guard patrols.
McDermott said officers are mostly used as crossing guards in the First and Third precincts - two of the county's busiest precincts.
He said on some days more than 50 officers are used throughout the county to make up for crossing guard sick calls and vacation days.
"Police officers' jobs are not to cross children," said CSEA Union President Jerry Laricchiuta. "They fight crime. They enforce the law."
Laricchiuta said the county should be doing more to incentivize people to apply for crossing guard positions.
"They know this. The county is well aware of it," he said.
The Nassau County PBA filed a grievance with the county more than a year ago. McDermott said the county has not addressed the grievance, so the PBA recently filed a complaint with a state board to try to force the county into arbitration.