By Bob Uphues
Riverside Police Chief Thomas Weitzel has been named co-chairman of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids Illinois, a group that lobbies state and federal legislators to fund early childhood education and other programs to help children, particularly children from low-income families, succeed.
The other Illinois co-chairs are Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, Union County State's Attorney Tyler Edmonds and Lake County State's Attorney Michael Nerheim.
"I'm really honored," said Weitzel, who has been a member of the Fight Crime: Invest in Kids Illinois board of directors for nine years.
Weitzel was first introduced to the organization through his participation in the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police and his involvement with that group's legislative committee.
As co-chair, Weitzel will continue to lobby legislators to fund early childhood education but will take on a more visible role, such as representing the group at media events.
Fight Crime: Invest in Kids Illinois is an initiative of a nationwide nonprofit called the Council for a Strong America, a partnership of law enforcement, ex-military, business executives, coaches and athletes and pastors which seeks to "promote solutions that ensure our next generation of Americans will be citizen-ready," according to its website.
One of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids Illinois' most recent initiatives is lobbying state lawmakers to fund programs targeting young parents, especially mothers, who are opioid dependent.
The goal of the programs would be to reduce the number of children who are born addicted to opioids, because studies have shown those who are dependent as infants are more likely to become addicted to opioids later in life.
According to a press release issued by the organization earlier this year, part of the solution involved voluntary home visits where "nurses and other trained professionals can coach at-risk parents during pregnancy or during the first three years of a child's life."
The group also lobbies for funding of state programs such as Redeploy Illinois, which was established to offer programs aimed at providing alternatives to jailing juvenile criminal offenders and reducing recidivism.
"You either pay on the front end or on the back end," said Weitzel of the value of funding early education and other programs aimed at children. "That's really one of the big angles as far as law enforcement goes."
Much of what Fight Crime: Invest in Kids Illinois advocates for receives bipartisan support in Springfield, said Weitzel, though funding programs faced additional hurdles during the past four years with the state enduring lengthy budget impasses.
"Most of our legislation gets bipartisan support," Weitzel said. "We're not asking for something for ourselves, we're asking for something that benefits the whole state and children."