Invest in children at early age to help end violence

I am calling on every police executive in the state of Illinois, our state legislators and other stakeholders to support robust investment in early education programs.

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A memorial for victims of Tuesday’s mass shooting at Robb Elementary School is seen on May 27, 2022 in Uvalde, Texas.

A memorial for victims of the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

An unspeakable tragedy! How could this happen?

No more do I want to use those words. It’s time for action.

As I was watching the news of the horrific slaughter of children and staff at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, I found myself heartbroken.

During this time, we probably will look to see who is to blame. But I’m not going to do that. It’s time to look at responsibility, because everyone involved had some responsibility for this gruesome event.

It begins with the shooter himself — the 18-year-old who purchased weapons just one day after it became legal for him to do so in Texas.

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Responsibility also falls on the parents, grandparents, school officials, elected officials — including local and state elected officials — and our national leaders. And make no mistake, law enforcement bears responsibility, too.

In the days and weeks that follow, as the tactical response of law enforcement is scrutinized and evaluated, we also should remember that law enforcement’s responsibility also lies in prevention.

All municipalities like Uvalde absolutely must get funding to help assist them in these types of events and to help them be more focused on data-driven analytics that could prevent them. They need, as many agencies do, analysts who are experts in searching the internet and social media, who could put together information to share with law enforcement agencies and come up with real life, tangible programs to prevent school shootings.

When I was still the police chief in Riverside, we had school initiatives, including some that parents didn’t like — for instance, I got complaints that bringing K9 police dogs to schools was too aggressive — and called me about.

The big problem is those initiatives were short term. The kind of investment and programs that are needed take years, not weeks or months, to be effective.

Yet here in Illinois, state legislators in Springfield continue to kick the can down the road.

One of the only ways we can stop this gun violence, specifically school violence, is to start educating at a much earlier age.

As Riverside’s chief, I was affiliated with an agency called Fight Crime Invest in Kids Illinois, part of a larger organization, Council for a Strong America. We — chiefs, prosecutors and other stakeholders — would regularly travel to Springfield to testify in favor of funding for programs that were absolutely data driven and evidence based.

When we would lobby, legislators would constantly tell me to bring data and evidence-based programs. In this case we did — and we were still underfunded.

Every single police executive in Illinois knows we need to start reaching kids at an early age and stage of development to prevent violence. We must provide adequate funding for preschool, home visiting, early education initiatives, Redeploy Illinois — a program for juvenile offenders — and other evidence-based programs that have a solid track record of positive impact.

The problem is, legislators want quick results, and that’s just not possible. These programs, while proven, take time to develop, sometimes as long as 10 years. But we have to start somewhere, and we have to start now.

Investing in children at a young age is the only way we will stop this epidemic of violence among young people. Just look at the violence occurring in the city of Chicago — carjackings, homicides, shootings and stabbings. Then take a look at how many are juvenile offenders. The number has exploded.

I am calling on every police executive in the state of Illinois, our state legislators and other stakeholders to support robust investment in the early education and indoctrination of our children. I use the word “indoctrination” in a positive sense, as in, we indoctrinate — or teach — children about success in life and how to be a productive young adult in American society.

There is no one who could have watched the events unfold in Texas who didn’t break down and cry out. 

If you’re crying out, let’s cry out for leadership and change.

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Tom Weitzel is the retired chief of the Riverside Police Department.

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