INDEPENDENCE — The kids at the Independence Oregon Child Development Coalition had some special guest readers during story time last week.

Independence Police Chief Bob Mason, Monmouth Police Chief Darrell Tallan, Polk County Sheriff Mark Garton, Polk County District Attorney Aaron Felton and Independence Mayor John McArdle took turns reading to a group of young students on Nov. 19.

When they were done, the visit continued as children were invited to climb through their vehicles and even set off a siren or two.

The visit wasn’t just for fun.

The chiefs and sheriff are members of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, a nationwide organization with more than 5,000 law enforcement leaders, more than 160 in Oregon.

They gathered last week at the Childhood Development Coalition to talk about the positive impact investing in early childhood education has on public safety.

Oregon lawmakers recently approved a $75 million increase to expand pre-kindergarten. According to information provided by Fight Crime, that means statewide 5,200 more eligible children will be able to attend pre-kindergarten through Head Start.

The need is larger still, according to a report by the Council for a Strong America, a national bipartisan nonprofit of which Fight Crime: Invest in Kids is a member.

There are “more than 20,000 children in low-income families who will still not have access to pre-kindergarten,” according to the report.

Odi Campos, program director for the Polk County OCDC, said the meeting was a great opportunity to highlight the need for early childhood education.

The programs are open to all families that want to be a part of the OCDC, he said, including those in rural areas.

If funding is increased, they’d like to expand to serve a larger population, and those areas currently not receiving services, he said.

Campos encourages people to be involved and “(be) vocal about the needs they have in their families and what they see in the community.”

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