At 5:22 Tuesday morning, Superintendent in Chief Daniel Linskey of the Boston police was getting ready to go for a hike in the Blue Hills Reservation when he got an e-mail from a police supervisor.
There was a protest at the Readville bus yard.
School officials had heard rumblings that there might be a bus driver strike, but police were given no such warning, Linskey said, creating a chaotic morning in the department.
Dozens of police officers who had been working since midnight and were scheduled to get off at 7:30 a.m. were ordered to stay on duty. Officers who usually patrol busy school crossings were ordered to get into their cruisers and start looking for students waiting on corners. About two dozen buses from the Police Department’s Community Service Unit and other city agencies were rolled out.
“We started becoming bus drivers,” Linskey said.
It was still dark as police fanned out across the city, finding confused children, some of them as young as 6, waiting without their parents, who had dropped them off at their bus stops assuming the bus would soon arrive.
Many children went willingly with police, excited to ride in cruisers, as harried officers dropped off one group of students, only to find out from dispatchers and fellow officers that another group of children was stranded nearby.
Some children whose second language is English had trouble understanding the officers. In Chinatown, an officer had to stop a passerby to translate in Mandarin.
Linskey went looking for students in his Ford Explorer. He told one 12-year-old girl on Columbia Road that she could take a picture of him and send it to her mother so she knew who was driving her.
“It was humming all over the city,” Linskey said. “We pulled it together.”
By the afternoon, Linskey said 100 officers would again help escort children home in case their parents could not make it to their school. Detectives recruited as drivers were ordered to don uniforms so children would be able to recognize them as police officers.
Principals helped out by writing the addresses of young children on pieces of paper to give to the officers who would drive them home.
Linskey estimated the effort cost the department $35,000 to $45,000 in overtime.
The department is ready to place more officers on the streets Wednesday if the strike continues, but Linskey said he is hopeful that if it does, most parents will find another way to get their child to school.
“I would think we’ll be in a little better position,” he said.
Asked if the School Department should have given police some warning, Linskey said, “I always like to have as much notice as I can.”
“Our job is to figure out a problem, adapt to it, and implement” a solution, he said. Officers “did an amazing job.”