Making a Difference West Edition

MAKING A DIFFERENCE: Investing in kids becomes a crime-fighting method

In the early 1990s, a group of law enforcement leaders asked themselves a simple question: “What would it take to prevent crime?”

The question arose during a time of growing national crime and tougher efforts to fight it. When law enforcement looked at who was being incarcerated the most, they saw young faces.

In 1996, in response to that question, they answered with Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, an organization that would help at-risk youth find life success while preventing crime.

“We are a national anti-crime organization working to keep kids in school, off the streets and away from the criminal justice system,” the nonprofit’s communications director Meghan Moroney said.

“Our main goal is helping kids graduate from high school. A lot of the research shows that if you drop out of high school you’re more likely to be involved in the criminal justice system in the long run or be arrested,” she said.

Made up of a team of sheriff’s deputies, police chiefs, prosecutors and violence survivors, the nonprofit initiates its work by analyzing data and research.

They look at what strategies school districts are using to keep children out of trouble and in school, Moroney said.

The organization then equips its more than 5,000 members with its research to find solutions to the issues they see.

“Our members take that information and they share it with their local elected officials,” Moroney said. “We’re giving them the information and tools that they need about what’s happening with youth in their community and then they’re able to elevate the issue.”

And they bring attention to the problems by hosting press conferences, writing opinion pieces or letters-to-the-editor, calling the governor’s office, or presenting their agendas in Sacramento to elected officials. Sometimes, they even organize community meetings.

Last month, for example, a Compton library hosted a town hall meeting to address the mistrust between students and the area’s law enforcement.

The panel featured four students from the Compton Unified School District and the Compton Sheriff’s Station, and everyone shared stories about experiences they have had with each other.

The meeting was part of the nonprofit’s series of community initiatives aimed at improving the bonds between youth and police.

And inside the classroom, the organization is working to improve schools’ responses to bad behavior with Senate Bill 607.

Moroney explained that “the bill would eliminate willful defiance and disruption as categories for suspension in grades [kindergarten] through 12th. …We found that suspension doesn’t always address the underlying behavior issues.”

Instead, they encourage counseling or behavior modification techniques so that disruptive children stay in school while getting their needs met.

And it is finding community needs and fulfilling them that are at the core of what Fight Crime: Invest in Kids does and will continue to do.

“What we’d like to see is make these programs universal,” Moroney said.

If every 3 or 4 year old is given the opportunity to attend preschool, and less children are suspended or expelled from school, then they would’ve met their goal, she said. 

INFORMATION BOX

State Director: Brian Lee

Years in operation: 22, 18 in CA

Number of employees in state: 6

State budget: $750,000

Location: 1121 L Street, Suite 602, Sacramento, 95814