Leaders from New Mexico law enforcement agencies on Wednesday called on Gov. Susana Martinez to sign bills investing about $30 million in early childhood programs, arguing that it will help prevent crime in the long term.
“Child maltreatment today is the driver of crime and violence for tomorrow,” said Michael Kovacs, chief of the Bloomfield Police Department, which is east of Farmington.
Kovacs joined officials from the Albuquerque Police Department, the Rio Rancho Department of Public Safety and the Los Lunas Police Department at a news conference in Albuquerque on Wednesday morning held by the Washington, D.C.-based anti-crime organization Fight Crime: Invest in Kids.
The legislation, which passed the House and Senate, includes money for preschool, home-visiting and child-care programs, said Natasha O’Dell Archer, national director of the group. Some of the funding is included in the budget bill and the rest comes from a bill that will appropriate money from the tobacco settlement fund.
Both bills are on Martinez’s desk. A spokesman for the governor said she is still reviewing the legislation and no decisions have been made yet.
O’Dell Archer presented a report that found home visits to high-risk families can significantly reduce child abuse and neglect rates and prevent violent crime. Home visits link pregnant mothers and young parents to trained advisers.
Data show that abused or neglected children are nearly 30 percent more likely to commit violent crimes, according to the report. About 5,600 New Mexico children suffered abuse or neglect in 2011, according to figures reported to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“We need to fight child abuse and neglect in order to fight crime,” said Los Lunas Police Department Chief Roy Melnick. “What we know from research is that providing evidence-based home visits to at-risk families can help significantly reduce cases of abuse and neglect and later crime.”
Nineteen New Mexico children died as a result of abuse or neglect in 2010, Melnick said.
— This article appeared on page C2 of the Albuquerque Journal