For Johnson County police officers, Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) has been a constant in their department. It has been their way of reaching out to students and encouraging them to resist drugs, alcohol and violence. For the past 12 years, urging children to stay off drugs and out of violence has been as constant as a gunning radar or writing up a parking ticket.
But with a hefty budget and reports from sources including the U.S. Surgeon General and the Department of Education claiming the program is ineffective, the Johnson County Sheriff’s office has realized that this program may be an expense not worth the price.
Within the last year, the Johnson County Sheriff’s office made the decision to cut DARE programs from the responsibilities of police officers. This decision came from their administrative offices, following tough budgetary reductions.
And while the DARE program is still being implemented in a majority of Shawnee Mission School District elementary schools, the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office will no longer be involved in the program, following in a nation-wide trend.
With this decision, SMSD students are left wondering if the program will be removed altogether from the district. But Superintendent Dr. Gene Johnson says that for the time being, the program’s here to stay.
Ultimately, the decision lies with the cities, not with schools or districts. So for a majority of cities, DARE is still prominent. The only town that has given it the axe is Shawnee, because of budget constraints. Despite the one closure, Dr. Johnson believes that DARE deserves to remain.
“We’re supportive of the program for sure,” Dr. Johnson said. “Because any time that you get police officers in the schools to work with children, to get them comfortable with the police, I think it’s a positive, and it’s a program that’s been around for a really long time.”
So while the program looks promising in the SMSD, it no longer has ties with the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office. The main reason for this decision was that police officer’s time could be spent in a more beneficial way. Johnson County Police Deputy Larry Shoop is a long-time contributor to the DARE program, making seasonal trips to elementary schools for two years. He feels the decision came down to how the officers could efficiently use their hours on the job.
“It was a matter of the officer’s time,” Shoop said. “I was obligated to the DARE program a certain amount of time a week and they just decided that I could spend my time doing something else than that, it was kind of a budget, man-power issue.”
These officers will be spending more time in the community. One of the many substitutes for DARE is “Code J,” which takes youth juvenile delinquents and tries to put them on a better path. And while this comes as a positive, students like junior Will Severns believe the program is an adequate way of spending time.
“I think it did a good job of at least preparing us, like they did a good job of telling us what to expect,” Severns said. “We hadn’t gotten into any drinking or smoking or anything like that during elementary school, but they did a good job of telling us that there will be a time in your life where you’ll be pressured with all this stuff, and i think that’s where a lot of the prevention came from.”
Sophomore John Lee disagrees with this opinion. Contrary to Severns stance, Lee feels the program is ultimately ineffective. Granted, he thinks it may work when students are children, but as they grow older, he feels that DARE just fails to motivate.
“I think [DARE] works for a very few amount of kids,” Lee said. “But for most people, they might think it’s effective at the time, but as they move on in life they forget about it.”
Whereas Lee thinks the program is incompetent, Shoop sides with Severns, feeling it was a great way to be proactive and help kids avoid drugs, alcohol and violence in the following years of their life. He says he tried to tell kids to avoid the “bad” things, like drugs and encouraged them to be a part of “good” positive activities.
This same message has been one of the key themes to DARE since its start in 1983. Since then, DARE has been implemented in 75 percent of school districts around the nation. The program is typically seasonal, lasting for a few months each year. Throughout these months, students are taken through a ten-lesson curriculum culminating in the graduation ceremony where they receive their certificates of completion. And while the goals for D.A.R.E are clear and concise, the results have been hazy in the past.
A report compiled by Ariel Kalishman of the Drug Policy Alliance in April of 2003 showed that DARE costs $1 to 1.3 billion annually, and has been deemed “ineffective” on numerous occasions by the U.S. Surgeon General, the National Academy of Sciences and the Department of Education.
A report filed by the California Legislative Analyst’s Office in 1999 found that the program is not only ineffective, but it increases the likelihood of students ever illegally drinking alcohol or taking illicit drugs.
Shoop has seen his fair share of DARE classes and he feels that the problem afflicting the program is reasonably fixable. He thinks it really comes down to the age level the program is pushed in.
“DARE is based off of all the age groups and most of the time it’s only pushed in the middle schools,” Shoop said. “I think that’s a great place to start, but I think DARE probably should’ve been pushed in the high schools also.”
Although the reports are against DARE, officers like Shoop think the program deserves to remain. He feels it’s a way to stay “proactive,” in the field of law enforcement where it’s essentially dominated by being “reactive.” Even though it may tend to fail in producing results, he feels it can’t hurt, contrary to the reports filed by the California Legislative Analyst’s Office.
Severns thinks whether the program is present or not, students will follow their own path.
“I definitely think that the DARE program helped but DARE program or no DARE program kids are still going to make their own decisions when they get to high school,” Severns said. “I think ultimately where it’s biggest, that whole subject, is with the parents, I think it’s ultimately their decision.”
Whether the results are good, or bad, DARE is a prevalent force in the SMSD. It’s been around since Dr. Johnson took his position in 1986, and it’s showing no signs of slowing down. As it looks, DARE is here to stay.
“One hundred percent of the salary comes from the city,” Dr. Gene Johnson. “So as long as they fund it, we will be participating.”