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."
"The key thing that has changed is officers are coaches instead of lecturers, so students can gather facts and information guided by the officer," Lochridge says. "It's more didactic, more interactive with kids coming up with answers instead of just being told what the answers are," Parsons adds. "This applies to a lot of different life skills."
The decision to make the program interactive was made on the recommendation of many professionals, including educators, D.A.R.E. advisory committees and prevention experts.
Officer Jeffrey Crotty, Glen Falls (New York) Police Department, likes the new curriculum, noting that "the kids get to interact with each other more and talk about their core values." In his 13 years of teaching, Crotty has seen the program influence kids in positive ways. He remembers one child in particular who grew up in a home where his mother was addicted to crack and dealing drugs. "Initially, the kid had little motivation to stay in school or get a higher education," Crotty states. "Now 24 years old, he has a degree in teaching." Crotty attributes much of his motivation and success to D.A.R.E.D.A.R.E. goes beyond drugs
In the new D.A.R.E., students are not only taught how to resist drug use, but how to make good decisions. "They have the right to make decisions, but there are consequences," Peterson says. "If they remember the D.A.R.E. decision-making model and look at the consequences, then hopefully they will make better choices."
Along with life skills training, the new program focuses on issues specific to individual communities. All students receive the core curriculum, along with supplemental lessons that deal with things like gangs, internet safety, bullying and meth. "It affords flexibility depending on what the community needs, [and] a toolbox for whatever an officer needs," Parsons explains.
Officer Jerry Klue, a Medina, Ohio, officer with 32 years on the job, adds he especially enjoys the anti-violence education, stating "it has a major impact on our youth."Benefits
Although quantifying the advantages of D.A.R.E. is difficult, several benefits come up consistently. First, D.A.R.E. is proactive. Fritsche was a juvenile officer at the time she was introduced to it, and saw it as an ideal way to take her training further. "I was chasing the juvenile delinquents and I wanted to do something proactive," Fritsche says. "So I went to D.A.R.E. and just fell in love with it. It was a positive experience, and I got to know the kids on a different level other than just police work." Parsons emphasizes the prevention concept behind the program. "This is the most cost-effective way to approach a social/medical problem instead of trying to use only interdiction and enforcement. We are trying to educate kids."
Relationships are another important aspect of D.A.R.E. Many times, school resource officers (SROs) who teach D.A.R.E. are already a recognized figure in children's lives and the community says Kevin Quinn, Arizona school resource officer and regional director for the National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO). He believes that having someone who kids are already familiar with teach D.A.R.E. increases its effectiveness. "Law enforcement and kid relationships can crack and become stereotyped," Quinn, says. "It's important for them to be out there teaching the consequences of their actions. A teacher could say it, but they will take it more seriously coming from an officer."
D.A.R.E. officers also forge lasting relationships with families. "It raises awareness, encouraging parents to talk to their kids," Parson says. According to the RCMP survey, D.A.R.E. aims to open the lines of communications not only from the kids to their parents, but from the parents to their kids.
When Glen Falls considered cutting its program, the community responded. "There was a huge backlash to keep it," Crotty says. "[D.A.R.E.] works in many facets, and I think it's been the most rewarding aspect of my career." Peterson agrees; "They need to have that connection with the community; that D.A.R.E. officer going into the schools not only connects with the kids, but also with the parents and the neighborhoods. Each one of us as an individual needs to combine together for the success of our youth."
D.A.R.E. still faces problems when departments have to decide where their funds are going. Parsons says that sometimes departments have suspended and gone back to D.A.R.E., but not because of effectiveness or desirability. According to many officers, D.A.R.E. should never be on the cutting block.
"In all the things that are going on with drugs and violence, we have to take this step and give this information and build relationships." Klue says. "D.A.R.E. touches families and kids and it really spreads. What we teach them is life-long learning skills."
Michelle Perin worked as a police telecommunications operator with the Phoenix Police Department for eight years. Currently, she is working on her M.A. in criminology from Indiana State University and writes full-time. To contact Perin, visit www.thewritinghand.net.What's new about D.A.R.E?
- New leadership
- Increased research activities to maintain program efficacy
- Science-based curricular components
- Training model and instructional methodology
- Funding opportunities for local D.A.R.E. programs
- Adjusted to the scientifically recognized high-risk group of seventh- and ninth-graders
- Enhanced protective factors, especially bonding to family, school and community
- 10 lessons
- Menu of enhancement lessons
- Lessons are interactive versus lecture
- Focus on applying D.A.R.E. decision-making model to real life situations
Students build skills to:
D Define problems and challenges
A Assess available choices
R Respond by making a choice
E Evaluate their decisions