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Mo. county aims to be second police department in US with subsidized childcare

Research has found that a lack of affordable childcare is one of the major impediments to hiring and retaining officers

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By Dana Rieck
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — The police department here is on track to become just the second in the U.S. to provide its officers with subsidized child care, part of an effort to attract and retain officers — especially women.

The St. Louis County Police Department’s goal is to open its day care center by the fall of 2024. If it does, it will join San Diego as the only other police department in the country to offer partially funded child care with flexible hours and drop-off availability.

“You know, it’s exciting,” said Matt Crecelius , business manager for the St. Louis County Police Association , which is spearheading the effort. “So it’s hard not to talk about it. ... We’re kind of in the fundraising part of it, so we have to be somewhat strategic. But I would assume in three to four weeks we will be talking about it some more.”

The goal of the effort, backed by the National Law Enforcement Foundation, is to “cut through the child care funding bureaucracy,” according to the foundation’s website. Research has found that a lack of affordable child care is one of the major impediments to hiring and retaining officers.

So far, Crecelius said, the St. Louis County Police Association has identified a possible site for the facility in central St. Louis County and has attracted its first big donor and a chunk of state funding.

[RELATED: How to fund a law enforcement childcare center]

The project was launched about a year ago when officers were asked to identify the major challenges that come with the job. Many cops pointed to child care, especially after the department moved to 12-hour shifts last year.

San Diego’s facility is slated to open in January. It will offer 50% subsidized daycare center and will be funded for the first three years through state grants and private philanthropy. The National Law Enforcement is working on similar efforts in Colorado and Idaho , too.

St. Louis County , like departments across the country, has struggled to fill officer vacancies. In the county, about 14% of positions were vacant as of early December.

But county police leaders hope the child care center will help retain staff, too — especially young officers who want to start families, and women officers who already have children but may be constrained by scheduling conflicts and the difficulties of finding child care.

“I’m in charge of patrol and we have some really good, young female officers here,” said St. Louis County police Lt. Col. Juan Cox . “A lot of them eventually are going to start their own families and they will have to make sacrifices.”

Tanya Meisenholder , director of gender equity for the NYU School of Law’s The Policing Project , noted the same challenges. Raising children, Meisenholder said, is one of the major factors that deter women from becoming officers, and it’s one of the primary motivations that lead them to quit the profession.

“Child care responsibilities, though they affect everyone, tend to have a disparate impact on women,” Meisenholder said in an interview with the Post-Dispatch .

St. Louis County has seen a slow but steady rise in its female officer ranks. Of the 825 commissioned officers in the department, about 18% are women. That’s up from about 12% in 2013.

And of the 172 leadership positions in the department, about 13% are women.

Those numbers put the agency ahead of national rates. Women make up about 12% of law enforcement officers countrywide, and only 3% of police leadership positions, according to the 30X30 Initiative, an effort by the NYU School of Law’s The Policing Project to have women make up 30% of the country’s police force by 2030.

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