Nonprofit, independent journalism. Supported by readers.

This content is shared with MinnPost by MNopedia, the digital encyclopedia created by the Minnesota Historical Society and supported by the Legacy Amendment's Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.

February 21, 1921: School safety patrol debuts in St. Paul

The school safety patrol was first implemented in St. Paul in 1921, one of the earliest in the country.

The safety patrol at work, c. 1930.
Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society

The school safety patrol was first implemented in 1921, one of the earliest in the country. Parents, principals, and politicians in St. Paul were at the forefront of its development. At that time, walking to and from school had become dangerous because there were more cars on the road and few safety guidelines. Children often took risks when crossing streets, and placing other children at intersections to direct traffic was a key innovation that reduced accidents.

During the early decades of the twentieth century, car travel became less expensive and more prevalent all over the United States. Minnesota residents enjoyed the convenience of the new machines, but governments had not yet developed reliable systems to keep pedestrians safe. Traffic police could monitor intersections, but school-age children did not always appreciate the risks associated with quickly moving cars. They often tried to cross streets where there were no police present. Drivers also did not have adequate training to keep safe on the road because the state did not require drivers to be licensed.

Across the country, men and women worked on methods for making walks to and from school safer for children. In the Twin Cities, governments began to experiment with using children as traffic monitors. Minneapolis explored several different measures to increase traffic safety during a “No Accident Week” the city held in 1919. The city hoped to raise public awareness of the dangers posed by automobiles by concentrating on it for a week. In one of their experiments, Minneapolis Police Officers trained Boy Scouts to direct traffic. Though the Scouts did direct traffic successfully, it did not lead to the creation of a school patrol.

The next year, at the urging of City Council member and Safety Commissioner Aloysius Smith, the St. Paul Police designed a training program for “school police.” They signed up 750 students to participate. They spent several months training the new recruits and deciding what the program would look like. Though the project initially encompassed public schools, the St. Paul Police asked if St. Paul’s Catholic schools would also participate in the program, and the Archdiocese enthusiastically agreed. Principals at their schools helped further design the new system.

Article continues after advertisement

The Cathedral School’s principal Sister Carmela Hanggi was an early proponent of the school patrol and a key developer of it. As part of her job in building parochial schools in the St. Paul area, she traveled around the country and met with educators from other parts of the country. On one trip she noticed a group of mothers who helped the children cross busy intersections and stopped traffic. While this group was unofficial, it did spark the idea of the school patrol in Sister Carmela’s head. Instead of mothers, however, she wanted to use older children to stop traffic and guide the younger kids. She was able to bring her ideas to the emerging program.

The first monitored crossing took place at Sister Carmela’s Cathedral School in St. Paul on February 21, 1921, at the intersection of Third Street (later renamed Kellogg Boulevard) and Summit Avenue. This experiment proved to be a success, and similar programs were adopted citywide in 1922.

Along with Sister Carmela, Sergeant Frank Hetznecker also played a key role in the early years of the school patrol. Made head of the St. Paul School Police in 1920, he was in charge of the city’s school patrol training and recruitment for the next thirty years. In 1926, he introduced Sam Browne belts to the school police. Sam Browne belts are buckled around the waist and shoulder, and the school police attached badges to them. They have become a marker of the school patrol and are commonly issued to participants across the country. Hetznecker also helped organize annual parades and picnics for the boys and girls who participated in the program. Eventually the name of the organization changed from school police to school patrol, but its function has remained largely consistent from these early years.

School patrols now operate around the world. The school patrollers do not direct traffic; instead, they stop it in key intersections and let children cross the street. Their presence has significantly reduced the dangers faced by children on their way home from school.

For more information on this topic, check out the original entry on MNopedia.