Since its creation in Los Angeles in 1983 the D.A.R.E., or Drug Abuse Resistance Education, program has been implemented at schools throughout the United States and the world. According to the program’s website, D.A.R.E. is currently in use at 75 percent of U.S. school districts and in more than 43 countries.
D.A.R.E.’s goal is to use police officers to provide factual information about drugs and alcohol and teach grade-school children how to resist peer pressure, encouraging them to lead drug and violence-free lives.
While D.A.R.E.’s intentions are certainly good, the program’s actual effectiveness has been called into question by a number of scientific studies that found it does not decrease students’ eventual use of drugs and alcohol and, in some cases, may even be counterproductive.
Officer Chris Neuville of the Door County Sheriff’s Department spends nine periods each year teaching the D.A.R.E. curriculum to fifth and sixth graders at five area schools: Southern Door, Sevsatopol, Gibraltar, Washington Island, and St. John Bosco Catholic School. At a meeting of the county’s Law Enforcement Judiciary Committee on Sept. 12, he and a number of school representatives promoted D.A.R.E. as a worthwhile program.
“D.A.R.E.’s not just about drugs and alcohol. What I like personally about the D.A.R.E. program is the rapport it builds with me. Since I’ve been teaching for eight years now, I still have a rapport with [kids] after their school years,” said Neuville. “They get to see [police officers] as regular people.”
Sevastopol Elementary School Principal Joe Majeski praised the program for creating connections between students, police, and the community.
“You can see the communication that occurs between the kids and the D.A.R.E. officer. You can see the number of questions the kids ask about alcohol and drugs,” said Majeski. “In Door County, we are a small community, we are a small town. It’s the connections that we form between people that keep our community strong.”
Laurie Connell, elementary principal at Southern Door Schools, joined Majeski in supporting the program.
“When I was a student at Sevastopol, our relationship with police officers was not what it is now. When we saw officers come into our building we started going, ‘Alright, who’s in trouble?’” she said. “At lunchtime, Officer Neuville takes a walk through our cafeteria…and the kids are drawn to him. That isn’t what it was when I was in school.”
Despite anecdotal praise and in light of the overwhelming evidence against D.A.R.E.’s overall effectiveness, the U.S. Department of Education began prohibiting schools from spending federal monies on the program in 1998.
Law Enforcement Judiciary Committee and County Board member Hugh Mulliken was the one who advocated for putting the D.A.R.E. program on the committee’s agenda. Mulliken said that, after looking at studies and consulting with children, the schools, and the hospital, he decided it might be worth the county’s time to look for alternatives to the D.A.R.E. program.
“There’s no question we have drug and alcohol use in our high schools,” said Mulliken. “The question that keeps coming up to me is, is D.A.R.E. the most effective program to spend our effort on? You spend a lot of time at the school, and everyone supports that…but they question the effectiveness of the D.A.R.E. program itself.”
Community Programs Director Joe Krebsbach was invited to the meeting to speak about possible alternatives to the D.A.R.E. program. He said his department is so busy handling current drug and alcohol abusers that it doesn’t have much time to engage in prevention.
He also said the amount of criminal behavior seen in children is dropping, and the creation of relationships between law enforcement and youth may be at least partially responsible for the decrease.
“I would suggest that you not stop D.A.R.E., but it might be a process of exploring other things that are out there that are effective,” said Krebsbach. “It might be worthwhile to explore as a community – and not just putting it on law-enforcement’s back – are there other things to do.”
In 2009, D.A.R.E. decided to change to a new curriculum, called keepin’ it REAL, which is recognized as a research-based and effective program by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the U.S. Department of Education. The transition to the keepin’ it REAL curriculum was completed in 2012.
Officer Neuville’s first classes with the keepin’ it REAL curriculum start in January 2013. He said he’s still learning about keepin’ it REAL and is excited to get back in the classroom.
“I’m not saying D.A.R.E. is the cure-all for alcohol and drugs, it’s certainly not,” he said. “But hopefully it has an impact on some.”
Outside of paying for Officer Neuville’s time in the classroom, the county provides no funding for the D.A.R.E. program. The roughly $1,600 per year needed to fund the Sheriff’s Department’s purchase of D.A.R.E. workbooks and materials is raised through community fundraisers.