SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Local law enforcement leaders are urging state lawmakers to increase funding for early childhood care and education.

The funding would allow for upwards of 17,000 more children to have access to care.

Springfield Police Chief Paul Williams is one of the people getting behind the movement.

He said investing in kids at an early age could be the key to cutting down on crime in the future.

“I’m afraid that if we don’t make some investment like this across the state, then I’m going to be seeing them later,” Williams explained.

Recently, Williams said he’s seen an increase in the number of 13 to 17-year-olds who are involved in violent crimes.

“I can’t help but think that’s because we missed the boat a decade ago,” he said. “Those kids didn’t have access to early childhood education, quality childcare, which then caused behavioral problems, which then manifests itself into criminal activity.”

However, he and other leaders said there is a potential solution.

It could not only give kids more access to education, but it could also help address workforce shortages.

“Governor Parson has put $78.5 million in his latest budget,” said Audrain County Prosecuting Attorney Jacob Shellebarger. “That’s passed the House and it’s working its way through the Senate. That could make a really big difference for early childhood centers.”

Shellebarger said he also wants to help kids get started on the right foot, rather than see them later in the criminal justice system.

“If we teach them early to keep your hands to yourself, don’t touch other people, don’t hurt other people and love your neighbors, those are all things that can help,” said Shellebarger. 

It’s things like nutrition, education and structure that leaders said will make a difference.

“They get an education, they’ll do better in school,” said Retired U.S. Army Brigadier General Daryl McCall. “Everything is a foundation that builds.”