After two longtime crossing guards that had worked with the Falls Church City Police Department for over five decades retired, Captain Stephen Rau knew it was time to rethink the role.
It was difficult to hire and retain employees in the position, as it had odd hours: two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon with nothing in between. Capt. Rau had similar issues trying to hire parking enforcement officers for the city.
“No one was biting,” Rau said of the lack of applications.
In 2020, the crossing guard and parking enforcement positions were combined into three full-time Public Safety Aide positions.
“We actually saved the city money by combining the positions,” Rau said.
City residents may recognize PSAs by their unique patrol vehicles: the electric 2022 Chevrolet Bolt. The Bolt is outfitted with a police radio and orange emergency lights, but Rau wanted to ensure their appearance was distinct from a sworn police officer.
“They have different uniforms and even a different patch,” he said.
The PSAs are civilian employees and don’t have the power of arrest or to write tickets beyond parking violations. They also don’t carry handcuffs or guns.
The three PSAs work in 10 hour shifts, beginning with crossing guard duty at Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School and Meridian High School in the morning and ending at Oak Street Elementary in the afternoon. In the intervening time, they conduct parking enforcement throughout the city and assist with special events.
Neighboring jurisdictions have similar public safety aide roles, but unlike sworn police officers who receive state-mandated training to become certified, the state of Virginia leaves the PSA position unregulated.
“We create our own training module,” Rau said.
New PSAs learn city geography, parking ordinances and traffic directing skills. They also go through the same driving training that the department’s sworn officers do.
Initially, the PSAs were given 13-year-old hand-me-down Ford Crown Victoria patrol cars. In 2022, Rau sought new vehicles for his division and the city asked him to consider electric cars.
Because the PSA vehicles would only be in use for 10-12 hours during the day, Rau said they would be the “perfect fit” to try EVs for the department. The Chevrolet Bolts charge overnight in the police station parking lot. He also got unmarked ones for himself and the police chief.
“I call it my squirrel car,” Rau said of his Bolt. “It’s small and efficient; I love it.”
Public Safety Aide Connor Kaygusuz said he loves the zippiness and maneuverability of the Bolt.
“I would choose it any day over the Crown Victoria,” Kaygusuz said.
Both Rau and Kaygusuz acknowledge the Bolt doesn’t have the authoritative look of a traditional police car, but that’s the point.
“We want to ensure they do not look like police cars,” Rau said. “These are public utility vehicles — they are not pursuit rated.”