I’ve been a proud member of the law enforcement community for over 46 years, including two decades with the Albuquerque Police Department.
A job that I’ve had for considerably less time, but which I value just as much, is being a grandfather.
When I think about my grandchildren, and my role as the APD chief of police, I know that I want them to grow up safe, healthy and well-educated in crime-free communities. I want the same for all New Mexican children, and one critical way that we can help make that goal a reality is through smart investments in high-quality early childhood programs.
These programs reach children at a crucial time in their young lives, when their brains are developing at an exceptional rate. Research, including research highlighted by the national law enforcement leader group Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, shows that high-quality early childhood programs can have long-lasting, positive effects on the children they serve – effects that can improve a child’s ability to succeed in school and life.
These programs include voluntary home visiting programs, which pair a nurse or other trained professional with young, at-risk families to provide education and support for new parents. Home visiting can help reduce child abuse and improve cognitive ability in children, while reducing dependence on costly social services.
Meanwhile, high-quality early education programs lay a foundation for future academic achievement and social-emotional competence. In turn, they can ultimately improve economic stability when these children reach adulthood, as well as leading to reduced criminal involvement down the road.
Finally, affordable, high-quality child care has a two-generation impact: it helps working parents stay focused and productive at work, which increases earnings and improves job prospects, while also boosting tax revenue.
Yet, for all we know about the positive impacts of these high-quality early supports, New Mexico needs greater investment. Currently, 15 of our state’s 33 counties serve fewer than half of the families who need home-visiting services, only 31% of 4-year-olds participate in the New Mexico Pre-K program, and over half of our residents live in “child-care deserts,” where affordable, quality care is extremely scarce.
This has to change. The positive results of these programs, including long-term crime reduction in some cases, are too important to ignore. Without high-quality, positive, early interventions, some of these kids will wind up in the back of a patrol car or inside a cell. From our Violence Intervention Program, we know that most victims – and offenders – of violent crime are under the age of 25.
That’s why we’re pairing operations to get violent criminals off the streets like Metro 15 with programs that aim to break cycles of violence earlier.
Under Mayor Tim Keller, the city of Albuquerque has also doubled down on out-of-school-time programs, including early childhood education for over 800 children. These opportunities in all neighborhoods across our city help keep children safe and engaged in our community.
My hope is that all children have the chance to get the best possible start in life and wind up on a better path. And that’s why I’m so pleased Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and our Legislature have begun to focus on these issues. For example, last year, lawmakers created a new Early Childhood Education and Care Department to improve coordination among programs and systems like home visiting, child care, pre-K and others. This was an important step forward as we begin to recognize the importance of early childhood.
But it can’t be the last step.
During this legislative session, I encourage lawmakers to keep moving forward by investing in high-quality home visiting, child care and pre-K programs, and to identify funding streams that ensure early childhood programs are consistently and adequately funded for years to come.
For the sake of our long-term public safety, and for the sake of my grandchildren’s generation and the generations of New Mexicans that follow, let’s continue stepping up at all levels for our kids.
Mike Geier is a member of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids