WEST ALLIS -- A company that employs crossing guards went out of business, creating a dangerous situation for kids walking to school on Monday morning, March 18 -- and police scrambling to find a solution.
Several police departments contracted with Wisconsin Personal Protection Services in West Allis to provide crossing guards at busy intersections. With those employees out of a job, police, volunteers and even school principals stepped in to keep kids safe.
At 73rd and Center in Wauwatosa, Nicole Etter said it's always a challenge for her and her two children to make it to Roosevelt Elementary.
"We've had kids almost hit. Cars come within inches of hitting them. There have been times the crossing guard has saved my life -- literally swept me aside, out of the way of traffic," said Etter.
On Monday morning, that lifeline was almost cut short for thousands of parents and students, after Wisconsin Personal Protection Services closed. The company contracted out crossing guards to a number of police departments in the Milwaukee area, including Wauwatosa, West Allis, Menomonee Falls and Waukesha -- covering busy streets near schools.
The company's only response was through a telephone recording: "Due to the unfortunate circumstances of the Department of Workforce Development, our establishment is shut down."
According to online court records, the company faces two lawsuits brought by the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development for unemployment compensation, totaling nearly $92,000.
"Is definitely a significant impact for our operations here," said Chris Botsch, deputy chief at the West Allis Police Department.
Botsch said the closure created a dangerous situation for children and placed the burden on police to fill the vacancies, with 18 locations staffed in West Allis alone.
"We were scrambling (Sunday) and (Monday) morning to get guards out there," said Botsch.
Police in other departments, like Menomonee Falls, got creative, asking some now former WPPS employees to volunteer temporarily:
“The Department is doing everything possible to fill the positions. All morning and afternoon shifts in the village impacted by the closure of Wisconsin Personal Protection Services are being staffed by a large group of personnel – including officers, department staff and former Wisconsin Personal Protection Services employees who have graciously volunteered their time," said Assistant Chief Mark Waters.
"It seems like this was very sudden," said Etter.
This was not an issue in Milwaukee. Police said crossing guards are hired through the city, and there was no interruption of service.