Return to D.A.R.E.

Armed with scientific credibility, the new D.A.R.E. program makes a comeback


     On April 5, 2005, President Bush declared April 14, 2005, National Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) day. Soon after, dozens of departments across the country began dropping the program.

     D.A.R.E., originally founded in 1983 by Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates, quickly established itself as the anti-drug program. In 80 percent of U.S. school districts and 43 countries, police officers lectured 5th graders on the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse. Regardless of its popularity, D.A.R.E. had a serious flaw: it lacked scientific credibility. An onslaught of academic criticism began after a 1991 University of Connecticut study, and by 2000 several other scientific papers discredited the program, stating the curriculum was unsound. Due to already tight budgets, police department managers began cutting D.A.R.E.

     Meanwhile, the national non-profit organization D.A.R.E. America has revised the curriculum several times since its inception, and a $13.7 million grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in 2003 led to a massive transformation. The revised program is currently being taught to all D.A.R.E. officers.

     "[The criticism] was political," says Officer Rick Peterson, a veteran of the Tigard (Oregon) Police Department and President of the Oregon D.A.R.E. Officers Association. He believes politics and budget strain were to blame. "It was being played by the media very heavily, and that weighed on the agencies," he states. "It wasn't that the officers weren't doing their jobs or it wasn't working appropriately; D.A.R.E. is more than teaching kids 'no.' "

     The new D.A.R.E. is designed to "keep students away from high-risk behaviors," Ralph Lochridge, director of communication for D.A.R.E. America explains. "It is focused on life skills and resistance to drug use." The D.A.R.E. America Scientific Advisory Board, Law Enforcement Executive Board and Youth Advisory Board all direct the program in order to see problems from every angle. Even the D.A.R.E. acronym has evolved to show its new focus on teaching life skills.

The universal argument

     Unlike with the original D.A.R.E., the social services community is not willing to accept the new program without analysis. In 2007, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) conducted a survey assessing Canada's D.A.R.E. program. The study was designed to address whether the program works, and begged the question: Is D.A.R.E. effective?

     "That's the universal argument. How do you rate any program when you don't know how many people would have used or not used?" says Deputy Volitta Fritsche, a 20-year veteran of the Morgan County (Indiana) Sheriff's Office, and a D.A.R.E. instructor for 10 years. Instead, she sees the program as a chance to build positive relationship with families. "Those relationships are beneficial," says Fritsche. "And kids told me that it helped them make good choices. As far as statistics, those I don't have."

     Alexa Thompson, the outside expert chosen by the Drug and Organized Crime Awareness Service (DOCAS) to analyze the RCMP survey results, agrees. In her analysis she states, "Overall, participants found the programming and officers exceeded their expectations. In many cases, D.A.R.E. officers have become prominent figures and familiar role models in the community schools."

Officers as teachers

     Having a police officer facilitate D.A.R.E. rather than a teacher is intentional. "We think it's important for a variety of reasons," Parsons says. "They bring credibility. We have solid peer review research that [indicates] a uniformed officer does better than other deliverers." Fritsche agrees, "The teacher stands up there day after day. A different face brings something new and kids listen. I'm not one of those that believe police officers need to be on the streets and not in the school. I'm on the preventative side."

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