September 12, 2012

TCOs: On The Mean Streets

Who are they? Why do these kids spend their summer directing traffic in one of the busiest places on Long Island?

After talking to a few of them, one learns why these young people, some still in high school, are out directing traffic in East Hampton during their summer. For most of them, traffic control is the first step toward working for the police department. The youngest Traffic Control Officers out there are still in high school, while others can be just out of college.

At the first crosswalk coming into town, RJ Anderson and John Grogan, aged 16 and 17, are both still students at East Hampton High. The main reason for starting out so early was, as Anderson described, because becoming a traffic control officers was a "good way to start in law enforcement."

Another example is Eric Fisher, 23, who studied criminal justice in college and is now working as a TCO to gain experience.

To become a TCO, anyone can apply, but you must have finished sophomore year of high school. There is a process of filling out an application from the police station as well as attending an interview. You don't have to be a cop to get the job, and for some people it can be a simple summer job. Nevertheless, the TCOs at the crosswalks of East Hampton are mostly looking into a career of law enforcement, hence their reason for applying. Most of them are year round locals as well.

The traffic directors of busy East Hampton work a 40-hour week, with either a 9 AM to 5 PM or 10 AM to 6 PM shift. The officers' jobs become even more difficult when traffic increases drastically on weekends. The population of East Hampton Town at least doubles over the summer, yet another difficulty TCOs must deal with.

Although directing traffic all day might seem less than exciting, many of the TCOs end up confronting unusual situations during their shifts. Veteran officer Eric Midgett, who has been directing traffic for five years since he was sixteen, recounted the story of an elderly lady in a Land Rover who came screaming to traffic cops about a dog being trapped in a car, with the windows rolled up in 100 degree weather.

When cops arrived to save the doomed dog trapped in the boiling car, they found the windows rolled down and a happy dog in the backseat. RJ Anderson also described that on his crosswalk, most people are almost "afraid to walk on the white lines" when they cross the street.

One long time EH resident who asked not to be identified said about the TCOs, "They look so young, and out-of-towners can show a lack of respect for their authority, but on the whole they do an excellent job."

As Traffic Control Supervisor Robert Jahoda put it, being a traffic control officer is a "good job, but a tough job." In the end, it's "rewarding to help the community."

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