Garden Grove officers walk the walk on National Walk to School Day, preaching safety

By Greg Hardesty

It wasn’t a typical start to a school day.

Students arriving at two schools that sit across the street from each other on Springdale Street in Garden Grove were greeted Wednesday by a contingent of nearly a dozen police officers stationed at opposite sides of a crosswalk.

“Are you allowed to tell us why you’re here?” one female student of Bell Intermediate asked GGPD Officer Josh Behzad.

Another student — a wise-cracking 11-year-old named Tori (“They call be Bodacious T”) noticed Behzad’s baton.

“Are you going to do some baton twirling?” she asked him.

Not exactly, kid.

Garden Grove Police Officer Josh Behzad talks with students from Bell Intermediate School before the start of class while participating in National Walk to School Day.

Garden Grove Police Officer Josh Behzad talks with students from Bell Intermediate School before the start of class while participating in National Walk to School Day on Oct. 5. Photo by Miguel Vasconcellos

The Garden Grove officers — including four motor officers and three patrol officers — were part of a team that participated in National Walk to School Day on Oct. 5.

They enforced traffic laws, handed out badge stickers and reminded kids and their parents about the importance of pedestrian and bicycle safety.

The 7 a.m.-9 a.m. effort, at three elementary schools and one intermediate school, also gave GGPD officers a chance to mingle with the public in a friendly setting — something the agency strives to do as much as possible to strengthen community ties.

Behzad, new to the GGPD and still going through training, had a gentle touch with the kids.

“We came out here to help,” Behzad told Tori and other middle-school kids who rushed him and his colleagues for chatter and selfies.

This year’s National Walk to School Day was timely.

Garden Grove Police Officer Josh Behzad poses for a photo with a student from Bell Intermediate School before the start of class while participating in National Walk to School Day.

Garden Grove Police Officer Josh Behzad poses for a photo with a student from Bell Intermediate School before the start of class while participating in National Walk to School Day. Photo by Miguel Vasconcellos

There have been five fatal traffic accidents involving either a bicyclist or a pedestrian within the last 10 months in the City of Garden Grove, prompting the formation of an Accident Reduction Team, or ART (stay tuned for a Behind the Badge story on this team).

“We’re genuinely concerned about the safety of the kids, and we want their parents to feel safe,” said Sgt. Patrick Gildea, supervisor of the GGPD’s Traffic Division, which includes five motor officers and one investigator.

Gildea supervised Wednesday’s event, along with GGPD Lt. Jeff Nightengale.

On a typical school morning outside both schools, parents drop kids off at the curb in red zones, traffic lanes get blocked, and some Bell Intermediate parents use Enders’ parking lot and have their kids use the crosswalk to walk across the street.

Enders’ parking lot is supposed to be used by Enders’ parents only

Not surprisingly, motorists were on their best behavior Wednesday.

Garden Grove Police Officers Ronnie Reyes, left, and Tom Capps help students cross the street participating in National Walk to School Day in front of Enders Elementary before the start of class.

Garden Grove Police Officers Ronnie Reyes, left, and Tom Capps help students cross the street as they participate in National Walk to School Day in front of Enders Elementary before the start of class. Photo by Miguel Vasconcellos

“I love them here making a presence,” Enders Elementary Principal Michelle Askew said. “It’s wonderful for the children to see the officers so involved and to see them making such a positive impact.”

GGPD Patrol Officer Vanessa Brodeur spent a lot of time answering questions from girls who asked her what it’s like being a female officer.

“Well, I’m not as big as the guys,” Brodeur told one.

Several police stations participated in National Walk to School Day, many joining parents, teachers and community leaders to accompany kids to school.

And several agencies, like the GGPD, deployed officers to neighborhoods near schools to make their presence known and to talk safety.

“Have a nice day, be safe,” Motor Officer Paul Ashby told one child.

Garden Grove Police Officers Ronnie Reyes, left, and Tom Capps and out stickers and help students cross the street participating in National Walk to School Day in front of Enders Elementary before the start of class.

Garden Grove Police Officers Ronnie Reyes, left, and Tom Capps hand out stickers and help students cross the street as they participate in National Walk to School Day in front of Enders Elementary before the start of class. Photo by Miguel Vasconcellos

“The kids seem to like this a lot,” Behzad said. “They think it’s cool we’re here.”

Annie Murray was pleased to see the officers when she dropped off her kids Finn, 5, and Darby, 8, at Enders Elementary.

“This police presence is very welcome,” said Murray, whose husband in an Orange County Sheriff’s Department deputy. “I think this is fantastic.”

Askew was wondering one thing at the conclusion of the event.

She turned to an officer and asked, “When are you guys coming back?”

Important Safety Reminders

For Pedestrians:

— Walk on a sidewalk or path when one is available.

— If no sidewalk or path is available, walk on the shoulder, facing traffic.

— Stay alert; don’t be distracted by electronic devices, including smart phones,

MP3 players, and other devices that take your eyes (and ears) off the road.

— Be cautious night and day when sharing the road with vehicles. Never

assume a driver sees you (he or she could be distracted, under the influence

of alcohol and/or drugs, or just not see you). Make eye contact with drivers

as they approach.

— Be predictable. Cross streets at crosswalks or intersections when possible.

This is where drivers expect pedestrians.

— If a crosswalk or intersection is not available, locate a well-lit area, wait for a

gap in traffic that allows you enough time to cross safely, and continue to

watch for traffic as you cross.

— Be visible. Wear bright clothing during the day, and wear reflective materials

or use a flashlight at night.

Garden Grove Police Sergeant Patrick Gildea, left, and Officer Ronnie Reyes pose with Enders Elementary Principal Michelle Askew while participating in National Walk to School Day in front of Enders before the start of class.

Garden Grove Police Sgt. Patrick Gildea, left, and Officer Ronnie Reyes pose with Enders Elementary Principal Michelle Askew while participating in National Walk to School Day on Oct 5.. Photo by Miguel Vasconcellos

For Drivers:

— Look for pedestrians everywhere. Pedestrians may not be walking where they

should be or may be hard to see—especially in poor-lit conditions, including

dusk/dawn/night and poor weather.

— Always stop for pedestrians in the crosswalk or where pedestrian crosswalk

signs are posted.

— Never pass vehicles stopped at a crosswalk. They may be stopped to allow

pedestrians to cross the street.

— Slow down and look for pedestrians. Be prepared to stop when turning or

otherwise entering a crosswalk.

— Never drive under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs.

— Follow the speed limit; slow down around pedestrians.

— Stay focused and slow down where children may be present, like school

zones and neighborhoods.

For additional information, please visit walkbiketoschool.org and saferoutesinfo.org