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How to fund a law enforcement childcare center

The San Diego Police Officers Association and the National Law Enforcement Foundation share lessons learned from building the nation’s first law enforcement only childcare center


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SAN DIEGO, Calif. — The San Diego Police Department became the first department in the nation to announce a childcare center for its officers, which is scheduled to open in January 2024. Since the announcement, police departments from around the nation have requested information from San Diego on how to build a childcare center for their officers. This panel discussed the importance of childcare for recruitment and retention, as well as their lessons learned from leaping over regulatory and childcare bureaucracy hurdles, at the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference:

Memorable quotes

Offering childcare for law enforcement, locally and nationally, is a team effort. The panel made it clear their success is attributable to lots of people sharing a vision and has required many areas of expertise from policing, legislative lobbying, accounting, grant writing and fundraising. Here are four memorable quotes from the panel on the importance of childcare for law enforcement.

  • “We are very proud to be the first police department in the nation to offer childcare with extended hours and reduced rates.” — Chief David Nisleit
  • “We are trying to solve two problems. First the financial hardship. Second the available hours.” — Sgt. Jared Wilson
  • “We don’t want officers choosing between their profession and their family.” — James Mackay
  • “We are trying to change the funding sources at the national level, state level and local level.” — Anne Bosanac

Key takeaways

Childcare is one of many initiatives to help departments recruit and retain officers. Bosanac outlined the process for how the National Law Enforcement Foundation is supporting law enforcement agencies. Those steps include:

  1. Help where we are needed and invited.

  2. Analyze the political and philanthropic makeup and create a funding strategy.
  3. Assemble a working group of local LE as stakeholders while NLEF implements.
  4. Use a coalition to educate legislators to provide public grant funding.

Here are five other top takeaways from the panel’s presentation and subsequent questions and answers.

1. Law enforcement has unique childcare needs

Police leaders need to recognize that their personnel have unique childcare needs because of their unusual work hours, employment in locations with living costs out of reach for their public servants, and escalating costs for childcare. Police officers work 24/7, including holidays. Childcare, that is safe and secure, also needs to have extended weekday and weekend hours.

According to the panelists, one in five police officers considered leaving their jobs altogether because of childcare stresses. More than half of officers reported leaving or missing work because of childcare concerns. The traditional model of childcare, open during the day Monday to Friday, doesn’t fit the full needs of police officers.

2. Childcare is especially challenging for female officers

Mackay shared that he is aware of police departments that have never had a female officer serve long enough to retirement from the department and that childcare likely plays a role in women not promoting and having long careers. Childcare problems that keep cops off the streets or pushes them out of agencies are police problems and community problems.

The NLEF and SDPOA is working closely with 30x30, a national initiative to advance women in policing. They are sharing lessons learned and networking with regulatory officials and leaders at every level of government to advocate for women working in law enforcement. One specific area they are collaborating on is steering potential future federal funding for law enforcement childcare from Health and Human Services to the Department of Justice.

3. Childcare needs to be accessible and affordable

The San Diego childcare center is going to be exclusive for law enforcement with hours that support shift work and holidays. The center is launching with half the market rate of tuition and has been able to raise the funds to offer 20% above market rate pay for childcare center teachers.

4. Bundle funding, but start with taxpayer funds

The SDPOA saw childcare as a benefit for its members. To make this happen, the SDPOA and the NLEF have received state grant funding, are accepting private donations and will charge tuition fees for children. The SDPOA is also seeking out federal grant funding, with the assistance of the NLEF, which helps cut through the childcare funding bureaucracy.

Bosanac would prefer to work exclusively with private philanthropic partners, but those partners have consistently told her that the association should first seek out and exhaust state and federal funding for childcare and then private philanthropy can fill in the gaps.

5. Design for security

SDPD officers were, rightfully so, concerned about the security of the childcare center. Though the San Diego location isn’t secret, it isn’t being publicized and the childcare center is located adjacent to a recently remodeled police administration building. The childcare center has its own entrance.

Learn more

Colorado, Idaho and Missouri are also actively creating law enforcement childcare funding opportunities through state grant programs. Watch Police1 news for ongoing updates about childcare for law enforcement. In addition, here are additional resources to learn more:

LISTEN: Policing Matters Podcast: How the 30x30 initiative aims to advance women in policing

Greg Friese, MS, NRP, is the Lexipol Editorial Director, leading the efforts of the editorial team on Police1, FireRescue1, Corrections1, EMS1 and Gov1. Greg has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a master’s degree from the University of Idaho. He is an educator, author, paramedic and runner. Greg is a three-time Jesse H. Neal award winner, the most prestigious award in specialized journalism, and 2018 and 2020 Eddie Award winner for best Column/Blog. Ask questions or submit article ideas to Greg by emailing him at and connect with him on LinkedIn.