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Mt. Hood Community College Head Start programs seek to stop crime before it begins.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: ZANE SPARLING - Rod Underhill and Mike Reese display pages from the picture book 'Officer Buckle and Gloria' on Friday, Nov. 17, at Covenant Presbyterian Church, 18630 S.E. Division Street. Throw the book at him? Multnomah County's top law enforcement say there's a better solution: Read a book to children.

Sheriff Mike Reese and District Attorney Rod Underhill are putting a shoulder of support behind local Head Start programs that provide free preschool to 1,300 kids age 3 to 5 in 25 locations across Gresham and East Multnomah County.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: ZANE SPARLING - Sheriff Mike Reese explains to preschoolers that Officer Buckle is unaware that Gloria the K9 dog performs tricks during the policeman's safety lectures. One gaggle of attentive students listened Friday, Nov. 17, as the officials read "Officer Buckle and Gloria," a picture book, at the Head Start program at Covenant Presbyterian Church, 18630 S.E. Division Street.

"The simple premise is that education needs to be a focal point of our crime-prevention strategy," Underhill explained earlier in an interview. "There is no winner when we're having a prison-involved conversation."

The tuition-free pre-K program serves children of the poorest families, but there's not enough state and federal money to enroll every eligible child. Program directors say 400 children are stuck on the waitlist, and believe there are 6,000 to 7,000 more who aren't even signed up.

"It's the tip of the iceberg," said Martha Brooks, state director for Fight Crime: Invest In Kids, a national nonprofit organization.

Head Start costs about $8,000 to $13,000 per child, she noted, while Oregon is projected to save $513 million through the lifetimes of the 15,000 children attending Head Start programs statewide.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: ZANE SPARLING - From left, District Attorney Rod Underhill, Sheriff Mike Reese and Rep. Carla Piluso read from picture book 'Officer Buckle and Gloria' at a Head Start classroom on Friday, Nov. 17."Intuitively, we knew that Head Start programs were proving successful for kids," added Sheriff Reese. "But now we've got research that shows when we invest in these early-education opportunities for kids, there's downstream impacts for all of us in our community."

"Not only (does) the Head Start program strengthen our children, but it strengthens the parents," agreed state representative Carla Piluso, D-Gresham, the city's former police chief.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: ZANE SPARLING - Head Start children receive gold sheriff star stickers on Friday, Nov. 17. The sheriff, who is up for re-election in May 2018, highlighted that about 200 to 225 people have been diverted from the local jail system since June 2014. Roughly 70 to 75 percent of male inmates cooling their heels in prisons lack a high school diploma.

Underhill acknowledges the recent uptick in property crimes in east Portland and Gresham through the past two years, though he said it would take a third year of data for him to call it a statistical trend.

"The sheriff and I know how ... to use handcuffs and cage cars and jail bars," he said. "But we prefer not to unless we need to."

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