Cops, kids and politics collided at Stanley Elementary School on Oct. 18.
County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist, County Sheriff Paul Pastor and Tacoma Police Chief Don Ramsdell, accompanied by Tacoma Public Schools Superintendent Art Jarvis, made an appearance in a Head Start classroom at the Hilltop school. They read to students to make a point about the importance of reading at a young age. Had their visit been limited to that activity, we could have commended the visit. But the event had blatant political overtones, which gives us reasons to question its appropriateness.
Charts were displayed aimed at making the point that early childhood education can result in lower rates of crime committed by children from low-income families. The visit was organized by Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, which describes itself as a national, bi-partisan, nonprofit, anti-crime organization based in Washington, D.C.
A news report from Fight Crime: Invest in Kids was released, which made a case that at-risk children who receive a high-quality education early in life are less likely to commit crimes and end up in prison when they grow up, thus saving taxpayers money down the line through lower incarceration costs.
The real point of the visit was to send a message to U.S. Senator Patty Murray. The Washington Democrat is one of the co-chairs of the Joint Select Committee of Deficit Reduction, the so-called “super-committee” tasked with coming up with finding $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction savings over the next 10 years.
In the press release sent by Invest in Kids, the law enforcement leaders urged Murray to prevent Congress from making additional cuts to “proven crime reduction strategies.”
Over the years many Tacoma City Council members have read Dr. Seuss stories in elementary schools in a special event to mark the birthday of the famous author. Members of service clubs and employees of businesses have made similar visits to read to and tutor young children around town. But those visits had no political goals. Using children to make a political point should always raise red flags. This visit did not even make a pretense of subtlety.
Holding it in an inner-city neighborhood panders to a stereotype that urban, poor children are potentially dangerous, more likely to end up in prison than college. Parents of Stanley students should take offense at this inference.
Ramsdell was quoted as saying that early care and education “offers a great return on investment for taxpayers, and the biggest reason for that is that it steers kids away from crime and reduces corrections costs.”
Educating children is important because it helps them develop properly, picking up skills they will use in life in careers, relationships and other aspects of adult life. Perhaps Ramsdell is right in saying that education’s greatest function is an insurance policy that might keep youth out of prison. If so, we are indeed a nation in distress.
Lindquist, Ramsdell, Pastor and Jarvis no doubt know how to contact Senator Murray. We are sure she could find time to take a telephone call from any of them to listen to their input on what the super-committee should or should not identify for budget cuts. There was no reason to use a classroom full of kids as props to deliver the message to her.
There is a host of complex reasons why America locks up so many of our citizens, a larger amount per capita than most of the police states on this planet. There is not enough room in this column to examine them in detail, but failed government policies certainly rise to the forefront. And talking about those is uncomfortable, unlike the warm, pleasant photo ops created by reading to young children.