Truth and DARE
In a cost-cutting move, police officials in Seattle and Spokane, Wash., have decided to “just say no” to their Drug Abuse Resistance Education programs, shelving them in favor of home-grown, anti-drug programs aimed at schoolchildren.
Officials in both cities denied that the decisions to pull the plug on DARE had anything to do with a controversial study conducted two years ago that concluded DARE had little, if any, statistical impact on drug use by young people. Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper had been quoted last month as saying that the “enormously expensive program has been, from a statistical point of view, an enormous failure.”
The study, conducted by the Research Triangle Institute in North Carolina, played a minor role in the decision, said Seattle police spokeswoman Officer Kristie-Lynne Bonner. “Obviously, we’re really interested in young people learning to make wise and healthy choices about their lives, but we’re also looking at research that’s indicated the effectiveness of the DARE program may be limited while smaller, more interactive programs taught by teachers instead of police officers may be more effective.”
Bonner was quick to add that any doubts about the program’s effectiveness were overshadowed by the $44-million budget deficit the Police Department faces over the next two years. City officials were ordered to implement across-the-board budget cuts, and the Seattle P.D. was not exempted, she said.
“When we were forced to make a decision between DARE or reducing on-street police presence to respond to 911 calls, we chose to eliminate DARE…. It’s a very good program. There’s no issue with the program itself in terms of the message it’s giving [youths]. It’s just no longer cost-effective for us,” Bonner told Law Enforcement News.
Bonner said the DARE program, which has been in place in Seattle for about 10 years, had four officers who conducted about 180 classes annually. The department spent almost $310,000 on the program in the 1997 fiscal year, and would have spent $320,000 in fiscal 1998.
Spokane police officials also cited fiscal reasons for scrapping DARE there. “It was strictly a budgetary decision,” said police spokesman Dick Cottam. “It cost the department about $550,000 a year. With constricting budgets, the feeling was we had to find a way to get additional officers on the streets, and this took officers out of patrol on a full-time basis.”
Spokane’s six-year-old DARE program involved six officers and a supervisor who conducted classes in both public and private schools. The decision to end DARE didn’t come “from a belief that DARE wasn’t a useful program. I don’t think that was the feeling at all,” he told LEN.
Replacing DARE in both agencies will be similar but less expensive programs designed in-house with input from officers and supervisors who were previously assigned to teach DARE. Seattle has developed “a number of new programs both within the school district and the department that enhance student-officer relationships and address the anti-drug and anti-alcohol message,” said Bonner. “The school district itself has developed a comprehensive health-education curriculum that is taught in all grade levels and which includes a drug and alcohol program.”
The Seattle Police Department, reflecting the
rising concern about youth violence nationwide, also has developed “Options, Choices and Consequences,” a program that Bonner described as “an anti-handgun, anti-violence course” that will tackle issues not covered by the DARE curriculum.
In Spokane, Cottam said, the Police Department has developed a Community Safety Education Program to replace DARE, whose last sessions were taught last spring. Officers will teach in classrooms on a part-time basis, making them available for patrol assignments, he said.
“This program goes from kindergarten through eighth grade, where the DARE program was in one grade only, the sixth,” Cottam observed. “We thought the there would be a broader-based relationship between uniformed officers and students over a sustained period of time rather than just one year…. Some of these youngsters don’t have that many positive role models in their lives, and our feeling is that over time it might change their outlook toward police officers and perhaps for authority figures in general.”
The Spokane program also uses many DARE concepts. “There’s a lot of misunderstanding about DARE, that it’s only an anti-drug program,” Cottam said. “It’s not; it’s a much broader in that it has to do with making decisions and dealing with peer pressure. Those things have been incorporated into this, but there are messages at different levels about different topics, depending on the grade level and ages of the students.”
Despite the shutdown of the two programs in Washington, DARE, which was developed in 1983 by the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles Unified School District, remains the nation’s most popular school-based, anti-drug program involving police officers, according to officials of D.A.R.E. America, a national information and resource clearinghouse for local DARE programs.
“Why is this news? Because it rarely happens,” Charlie Parsons, executive director of D.A.R.E. America, said of the recent decisions by Seattle and Spokane officials. He said the scrapped programs represent “a very small percentage of all of the DARE officers in Washington” and added there had been no “groundswell” of defections from the program since the Research Triangle study was made public.
Parsons, a former special agent in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles office, estimated that 300 to 400 police departments add DARE programs each year. The New York City Police Department recently budgeted $8.8 million for the program, in which 101 officers will be assigned to teach the 17-week curriculum to 600,000 students in 1,100 schools. In addition, DARE has become a presence overseas with programs in 44 countries. This month, the program was implemented in Colombia, a “source country” for narcotics.
Parsons said that DARE is in 70 percent of the nation’s school districts and will reach 25 million students this year. About 25,000 police officers nationwide are trained to teach DARE courses, he added.
“The reason it keeps growing is because of its acceptance by officers, by educators, by kids and by parents,” said Parsons. “That’s why it is growing so rapidly and why it’s being added so many places.”