Lack of early education linked to crime later, police chief says

At-risk children without access to early educational opportunities are more likely to wind up committing crimes later in life, Grand Junction Police Chief Bill Gardner said during a news conference Thursday.

Gardner’s appearance at Rocky Mountain SER Western Slope Head Start school in Grand Junction’s Riverside neighborhood was in connection with an appearance by officials from the nonprofit group Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, which advocates for more government money for early education.

Head Start is a federally funded program for children between ages 3 and 5 from low-income families. According to a report released by the group, at-risk children without high-quality early education are 70 percent more likely to commit violent crimes.

“The real way to fight crime is to invest in kids,” Gardner said before settling on the floor to read a book to the school’s 17 students.

In the wake of proposed cuts for early education in School District 51, it may become harder to fund such programs. The district was slated to receive 50 new preschool slots next year, but those won’t materialize, providing a savings of $350,000. The district has been instructed by the state to eliminate $2.3 million from its 2009-10 budget. 

A few mothers who attended the news conference lauded the school’s positive impact on their children.

“At this age they love to learn,” parent Petra Lopez said of her daughter. “We do stuff at home, but this is more than I’d know what to do.”

Budget cutbacks also are affecting area schools’ law enforcement presence, Gardner said.

The Grand Junction Police Department has always footed the bill for School Resource Officers, or police officers who spend time on school campuses. However, after one officer left recently, a citywide hiring freeze kept the position from being filled, Gardner said.

District 51 has been in talks with law enforcement over how to pay for the position, district spokesman Jeff Kirtland said.


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